- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. | Perhaps it’s his Super Bowl victory that keeps Ben Roethlisberger out of the ranks of the top quarterbacks in professional football.

It doesn’t seem logical: How could winning the game’s greatest prize go down on the resume as failure?

The Pittsburgh Steelers, the perception is, won Super Bowl XL despite Ben Roethlisberger.

The former first-round draft pick, at the time in his second season, completed nine of 21 passes for 123 yards and two interceptions.

Yet here Roethlisberger is, back on football’s big stage to lead the favored Steelers against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

A victory over the Cardinals would land the 26-year-old in elite company. Roethlisberger would join Hall of Famer Troy Aikman and New England Patriots superstar Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks to win two Lombardi trophies in their first five seasons.

“Whatever stats Ben had in that first Super Bowl, I don’t see that same guy anymore,” said receiver Hines Ward, one of only five starters remaining from the 2005 offense. “It’s his team now. He doesn’t have to look over [running back] Jerome Bettis’ shoulder to be a leader. He doesn’t have to look over [guard] Alan Faneca’s shoulder. Now, guys are looking over his shoulder as the leader and saying, ‘Lead us. Take us to the promised land.’

“I look for Ben to go out and have a great day. He’s on a mission. He really wants to go out there and redeem himself.”

To an extent, Roethlisberger already has done that.

Less than six months after Super Bowl XL, Roethlisberger broke his jaw and suffered head injuries in an accident that sent him flying off his motorcycle and into a windshield.

The accident and the subpar season that followed humbled him. “It’s a trophy to be alive every day,” Roethlisberger said. It also brought him closer to his teammates.

Rookie offensive tackle Tony Hills, who hasn’t played, said Roethlisberger has welcomed him. Roethlisberger took his linemen on a spring trip to a Georgia lake and a bye week excursion to Chicago. But Roethlisberger said he didn’t try to make himself out as a leader.

“It just naturally became my time,” he said.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said the bonds between Roethlisberger and his linemen helped make the Steelers the AFC champions.

“Quarterbacks and offensive lines, they need to hang,” Arians said. “Camaraderie has really built with the line and Ben. Those guys really enjoy each other. They don’t want to see him hit.”

But he does get hit.

Roethlisberger has been sacked 139 times in the past three seasons and 11 more times in three playoff games - in part because he disdains throwing the ball away. He suffered a concussion in the regular-season finale - the Steelers fortunately had a bye the next week - and a back injury in the AFC championship game.

“I get upset when people call Ben a drama king,” Arians said. “This guy’s a ferocious warrior. He takes a lot of hits because he plays backyard football sometimes, but he always gets up swinging. The accident affected us all. I saw a guy who was maybe a gunslinger become very humble. Not only did Ben go through the accident, he didn’t play well that year.

“But he’s been able to grow from all that and get the gunslinger back. With all the injuries we’ve had on offense this year, we’re not here without Ben. Even with our defense. He’s the reason we’re here.”

That’s debatable, especially considering just how good the Steelers’ top-ranked defense is.

But Roethlisberger raised his game in the playoffs. He has a 90.8 passer rating after compiling an 80.1 in the regular season and didn’t turn the ball over against the top-10 defenses of the San Diego Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens.

“Ben’s not going to put up stats like Brady and those guys,” Ward said. “That’s not the kind of offensive style we have. But one stat I do know is his winning percentage. Ben is a winner. He’s won time and time again.”

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