The last time he was at the Super Bowl, Ben Roethlisberger knew he barely survived.
Three years ago, he was the kid who was being asked to simply manage a game.
In football speak, “manage” is the not so subtle way of saying “just don’t screw it up.” The Pittsburgh quarterback went into Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks with barely two years of experience and the Steelers won in spite of him. He was a kid whose most important task was basically not to lose a game, rather than attempt to win it.
But there he was Sunday night on pro football’s biggest stage, Super Bowl XLIII, all grown up and in full control.
With 2 minutes, 30 seconds left and Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers trailing the Arizona Cardinals 23-20, Big Ben stepped into the huddle and he was no longer some bit player being urged to keep out of grown folks’ conversations.
The Steelers were 78 yards away from winning the Super Bowl, and the only way they were going to do it was with Roethlisberger taking his team all the way down the field.
On the first play from scrimmage, the Steelers were called for holding, and that pushed Roethlisberger back 10 more yards and took six precious seconds off the clock.
Two minutes and 2 seconds later – and six completions by Big Ben – the Steelers were in the end zone on a perfectly thrown pass from Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes.
Holmes’ toe-tapping, body-stretching, game-winning catch earned the slight receiver the Super Bowl MVP, but he could not have done it alone.
Without Roethlisberger, this indelible Super Bowl moment would never have happened.
That is what special players do, and Roethlisberger is now officially one of those special players.
“I’m not into taking trophies away or accomplishments away from people, so Santonio Holmes, you deserved it,” said Marcellus Wiley, the former Pro Bowl defensive end and current ESPN pro football analyst. “But either split (the MVP trophy) in half or make a duplicate because Ben Roethlisberger deserved it, too.”
On Monday morning, Holmes was holding an MVP press conference and having his photograph taken in front of a shiny new car. I don’t have a problem with Holmes getting the keys to that car, or holding that shiny trophy, either. But just like Wiley, I’m one of those people who watched Super Bowl XLIII and were convinced that the rugged Steelers quarterback belonged at that press conference, too.
On the glaring athletic stage of the Super Bowl that has melted more than a few stout hearts, Roethlisberger earned the respect of the pro football world by showing us another way of becoming a great NFL quarterback.
He didn’t just do it with mind-blowing stats. He did it the way he always does it, by finding a way to win.
“A lot of other quarterbacks have a lot better stats,” Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward said. “The only thing that matters with Ben is that he’s a winner.”
The stat line on the night says Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner should have been the star of the game. He put on an incredible second-half show and brought the Cardinals from a double-digit deficit to a 23-20 lead. His only mistake was leaving too much time on the clock for another star quarterback on the other side.
While Warner did his heroics like a typical pocket passer, Roethlisberger was unconventional. Built like a blocking tight end, Big Ben rambled around behind the line of scrimmage, zig-zagging all over the place, avoiding tacklers and making plays like he was out on the playground drawing up pass patterns in the dirt.
Most folks prefer their quarterbacks to be classically trained geniuses who sit in the pocket and pick apart defenses like a maestro. Roethlisberger is more like a jazz artist, improvising every movement.