If you know me at all, you're probably aware of my admiration for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And the reason for this is because I understand what he represents to the organization, and how things drastically changed upon his arrival from Miami (Ohio) in the 2004 NFL Draft.
His arrival meant stability at a position that was once so unstable, Kent Graham started a regular season game for Pittsburgh.
I don't think it's a coincidence at all that the Steelers' Super Bowl fortunes improved almost immediately after Roethlisberger was inserted into the starting line-up in Week 3 of the '04 season, following an injury to Tommy Maddox.
The winning that went on here for a number of years with Roethlisberger under center is something I'll remember for the rest of my life. I got to scream "We're No. 1!" twice in the past eight years, and regardless of all the other stars that helped Pittsburgh win two Super Bowls in the previous decade, No. 7 was the main reason for the parades.
Roethlisberger's relationship with the fans and media was often contentious, early on, and he only has himself to blame for that, thanks to his often less than cooperative behavior in the locker room and his over-the-top entitled attitude away from the football field.
And of course, there were the legal problems that almost cost Roethlisberger his time in Pittsburgh, and put his freedom in jeopardy.
However, like a lot of immature and entitled athletes, Roethlisberger has grown up a bit over the past few years, and he now has a wife, a child and another one on the way.
After once being called out by his teammates for not being a leader, Roethlisberger is now a captain and has become one of the more vocal leaders on the team.
A year after walking away from reporters who wanted to interview him and immaturely exclaiming "I ain't never going to win a Rooney award!," Roethlisberger was given the "Chief Award" in 2010 for his cooperation with the media.
Yes, now in his 30s, Roethlisberger is finally starting to accept the true responsibilities of being the face of a franchise. Unfortunately, at a time when most franchise quarterbacks should be almost on auto-pilot on the football field in terms of knowing the offense and the personnel, Roethlisberger is in the throes of learning a new offense under Todd Haley, complete with a rookie running back, a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end who is probably not quite 100 percent after enduring major knee surgery in the offseason and No. 1 and No. 2 receivers who would probably be, at best, No. 2 and No. 3 receivers on many other teams.
And despite the wise decision in recent NFL Drafts to select four offensive linemen high (two in the first round and two in the second round), the struggle to protect Roethlisberger has continued almost non-stop. After sustaining significant injuries each of the previous two seasons, it may be just a matter of time before he suffers a major injury this year. Through seven games, Roethlisberber has been sacked 26 times, and that's not counting the dozens of other hits he's taken after getting rid of the football.
Not surprisingly, along with the rest of the offense, Roethlisberger isn't having one of his better seasons. In seven games, he's thrown just eight touchdown passes to seven interceptions and has a passer rating of 87.2.
As a whole, the Steelers are struggling mightily in 2013, and have the second worst record in the AFC at 2-5. With regards to the postseason, there isn't much promise, but that doesn't mean there isn't much to play for.
On Sunday, at Gillette Stadium, Pittsburgh takes on the Patriots, and that means a date with Tom Brady, the all-world quarterback who has more Super Bowl rings than any signal-caller since Joe Montana.
As I said, I love Roethlisberger and always rally behind his abilities, and that's especially the case when it comes to any high-profile quarterback that might be going opposite him.
Brady is one of those quarterbacks that gives Steelers fans nightmares because of how he can take over a game. But Roethlisberger has probably given similar nightmares to many fan bases over the years, and I hope the New England fans are at least a little worried about what he could do to their team.
Yes, the Patriots have one of the top passing defenses, and Le'Veon Bell might be the answer in-terms of exploiting their 31st in the NFL ground defense. However, when was the last time Roethlisberger went off? Sure, there have been games where he's thrown for a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns, but recently, those times occurred when the team was almost hopelessly behind.
Just once, even in the face of perhaps a group of inferior and inexperienced offensive skill position players and an injury-plagued offensive line, I'd like to see Roethlisberger take over Sunday's game against New England.
I'm hoping Roethlisberger goes nuts and throws for four touchdown passes in a 28-3 shellacking of the Patriots. Would it lead to a playoff spot for the Steelers? No. Would it prevent New England from being a Super Bowl contender? Probably not.
But I always feel like Roethlisberger has to constantly prove himself to the national experts, who never truly seem to want to buy into his greatness.
Roethlisberger is great, and I'm thankful he became a Steeler.
At 4:25 p.m. ET, against the most high-profile of all the high-profile quarterbacks, I'd like to see Roethlisberger beat the living hell out of New England, and by extension, Tom Brady.
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