What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Wiser - By John Smathers

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

The next big news about Big Ben: He's headed back to New York City to make another appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. Only this time, instead of getting his beard shaved off, he and Dave are going to compare gaps between their teeth.

Then instead of tossing a football threw the open window of a moving taxicab, Big Ben is going to weave his new Suzuki Hayabusa through a gallant of moving New York taxis, all pulling in front of him while making a "Pittsburgh Left," or a NYC Left in this case. Now that is death-defying.

Of course, Roethlisberger will make sure he has a New York state motorcycle license first. Anyone know what the helmet law is in the Empire State?

Of course, none of that is true, and I know, none of that is really that funny either. But we can all afford a nervous laugh now, because, thank God, Ben Roethlisberger is alive and well. Well, at least he's a whole lot better off than he reportedly was on Monday afternoon. And I suspect a whole lot smarter, too.

I don't think this is what was meant when commentators spoke of Roethlisberger taking the next step in his evolution, but it can be seen that way. They were talking about his growth on the football field, but as coaches are fond of saying, the lessons of life and the lessons of football are often quite similar.

What was the specific lesson here? Maybe it's a lesson in maturity. All I want to know is that Ben Roethlisberger matured a little bit since Monday morning. Not a lot, just a little, because it's no fun being 24 and thinking like you're 44, or even 34. You can't take that away from him. But I hope he grew up some, even though a face into a windshield isn't exactly what any of us have in mind when we refer to 'growing pains.'

Speaking of pain, I'm sure Roethlisberger was very happy to leave Mercy Hospital without his jaw wired shut. But that could have had its upside. He would have had an excellent excuse to avoid the same reporters' questions and say little, if anything, to the media horde for the next several weeks.

Which brings me to training camp and the regular season. For a couple of tense days, it looked like a race might develop between Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer of Cincinnati to see who would actually start again. I think Ben has the edge now, though Palmer has actually been moving pretty well through workouts when he hasn't been hating.

The good word is that Roethlisberger will be ready to go and that's great. Hopefully, there will be no setbacks in his recovery, but the Steelers need to be prepared for that possibility.

Charlie Batch is ready to go. He knows the system well and I think he would grow into the starting position nicely if Roethlisberger has problems. The Steelers won't put the game on Batch's shoulders. As much as the team ran the ball in 2005 (549 rushes in 960 offensive plays, 57 percent), they would run it even more under Batch.

I like the sound of Batch starting in Roethlisberger's place more than Kyle Boller starting for Steve McNair in Baltimore or Anthony Wright starting for Palmer in Cincinnati. That's the obvious way to go.

By midweek, it became clear that Roethlisberger would be able to play football again. We just didn't know when. So the question at that point was no longer 'who will replace Ben Roethlisberger?' It was 'who will replace Tommy Maddox?' The Steelers needed, and still do, a viable, experienced backup for Batch if Batch has to take over as the starter for any significant length of time.

Remember that No. 2 quarterbacks go down, too, just as Batch did on Nov. 13, 2005 vs. Cleveland. Are you ready for Omar Jacobs or Shane Boyd? Maybe someday, but that's not the kind of thing fans of a defending Super Bowl champion want to hear.

Jacobs and Boyd can battle for the No. 3 spot, but the situation calls for NFL experience. Why not replace Maddox with ... Maddox?

Tommy Gun, who was released on March 3, apparently has an interest in coming back in light of Ben's accident, though he seemed to have divorced himself not only from playing football for the Steelers, but from playing football at all.

Other teams knocked on Tommy's door after his release, but he was looking at life on the links as a pro golfer and maybe still is. But here's an opportunity to come back to an organization and system that he knows, even if it's a short stay.

But the outlook for Ben looks a lot brighter today than it did when Maddox's name started circulating on Monday. And they say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Let's hope it makes you wiser, too.