As the 2010 season began there were very few people who gave the Pittsburgh Steelers a second thought as an elite AFC team. There were simply too many questions, and the biggest of those questions were centered on Big Ben Roethlisberger.
Now that the Steelers have answered any questions regarding their 'elite' status by securing the second seed in the playoffs & winning the AFC North with their impressive 41-9 victory over the Browns, this is as good a time as any to look at how Big Ben has answered those questions aimed at him.
The win over the Browns actually served as a nice bookend to Ben’s regular season as it was the Browns whom he faced in his first game back from his 4-game suspension at the beginning of the season. In that contest, Ben threw for 257 yards, 3 TDs & 1 INT. That game served to answer the first question, "How rusty will Roethlisberger be when he returns?"
Sure, there was some rust but the comfort of having a starting-caliber QB back under center was undeniable. The combination of Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch may have been serviceable through the first three games of the season, but the contest against the Ravens in Week 4 made it achingly clear that the Steelers were in need of their franchise quarterback.
While enduring off the field controversies, the one thing that most athletes can depend on is support from their teammates & coaches. Perhaps it was the fact that his latest incident was considered to be one too many, or perhaps it was just a matter of his growing ego, but Ben’s teammates sent him a clear message during the pre-season when they did not vote him in as a team captain. That may seem like a non-issue, like no big deal, but for a franchise quarterback who has already won two Super Bowl rings not to be voted in as a team captain; well it is a pretty big deal.
That brought to light the second question for Ben this season, "Can he win back his teammates?" Nobody other than the players in the Steelers locker room can ever answer that question definitively, but it seems that Ben has gone about things the right way. Hines Ward, one player who was critical of Ben’s actions, had this to say after the season-ending blowout win over the Browns, "Ben came through adversity. He stepped up, not that he hasn’t in the past. But this season didn’t start like other seasons".
The last question that Ben still has to contend with is not one that he can answer through his play on the football field. Quite the opposite, Ben has to prove that he has learned his lesson off the field. Fans of anything, but especially sports fans, are extremely forgiving as a whole. However, just like teammates who have the power to simply not name you as a team captain, fans can send a message if they feel you’re not representing their favorite team –and them – in the proper way.
Think how different things could have been this season if, instead of receiving a warm reception from the Steelers faithful, Ben encountered a more hostile fan base. Consider the way Vince Young was booed off the field in Tennessee. Fans have a low tolerance for millionaire athletes who refuse to grow up, or at least grow up a little. To Ben’s credit, strictly from the outside looking in, it seems that he has heard the message from the NFL, the Steelers organization, his teammates, and his fans loud and clear. Time will tell, but in my opinion Ben has answered his critics & is ready to move on for good.