The recent puff piece from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sought to add a little balance by asking Roethlisberger to list his career regrets.
The most obvious area for potential reflection and remorse was not acknowledged, either by Roethlisberger or by Ron Cook, who wrote the essay. (Hey, if no one ever acknowledges it, it never happened, right?)
Instead, Roethlisberger regretted the team’s loss in Super Bowl XLV, playing the what-if game with center Maurkice Pouncey’s ankle injury and running back Rashard Mendenhall’s fumble. (Don’t tell Mendenhall that was a fumble.) Roethlisberger also lamented the fact that the Steelers won only three postseason games after the Super Bowl that capped the 2010 season.
“I feel like the game has changed,” Roethlisberger stated on that point. “I feel like the people have changed in a sense. Maybe it’s because I was pampered when I came in. The team was incredibly crucial. It was all about the team. Now, it’s about me and this, that and the other.
“I might be standing on a soapbox a little bit, but that’s my biggest takeaway from when I started to the finish. It went from a team-first to a me-type attitude. It was hard. It’s hard on these young guys, too. Social media. They’re treated so wonderfully at college. Now, this new NIL stuff, which is incredible. They’re treated so special. They’re coddled at an early age because college coaches need them to win, too. I know coach [Terry] Hoeppner never coddled me [at Miami of Ohio]. Neither did [Bill] Cowher.”
Well, that’s interesting. Hoeppner coached Roethlisberger for four years. Cowher coached Roethlisberger for three.
Mike Tomlin coached Roethlisberger for 15 NFL seasons.
It’s fair to ask whether Roethlisberger is arguing that Tomlin coddles players. We sort of already know that he does, at least with excellent ones like Antonio Brown.
The second way to say it is that Tomlin knows how to manage potentially difficult players, in order to speak to their better angels. What may look like coddling is really like defusing (or at least delaying) a ticking time bomb.
Indeed, we’ve heard for years that guys who weren’t known to be pests in Pittsburgh at times move somewhere and create internal turmoil. Other coaches in the NFL highly respect Tomlin’s ability to lead players who may be tempted to make trouble away from doing so. With Brown, Tomlin somehow managed to do it for over a decade.
Some will also see Roethlisberger’s words are amusing, given that he was at times an unpopular, me-first figure during the early years of his career. He became renowned for (or at least suspected of) inflating and/or manufacturing injuries, commencing with the aftermath of the 2004 AFC Championship. He stated that he played with multiple fractured toes. Cowher openly announced that his rookie quarterback had zero fractures of the metatarsal bones.
There were additional concerns for Young Ben, including the motorbike accident that (according to him) left him “seconds, maybe a minute from from dying,” along with a reputation in the locker room for at times being a touch sullen and standoffish.
There’s an entire chapter in Playmakers devoted to the redemption Roethlisberger experienced following his four-game ban in 2010. (As one former anonymous colleague commented regarding Ben, “He a turd.”) As observed in Playmakers, it’s remarkable that the transgressions of his youth have gotten utterly lost to history. Apparently, the whole universe of persons who have gained amnesia regarding the early days of Roethlisberger’s career now include Roethlisberger himself.