Now That We've Seen Ben Roethlisberger - By John Smathers
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Finally, we know. Ben Roethlisberger doesn't look like Frankenstein's monster. He's not exactly the same Ben we knew and loved before June 12, but he's far from hideous. In fact, he looks better ... edgier, even.
Thank God. Well, not so much that he's not deformed. That's good, but I am happier that Roethlisberger has stepped back into the spotlight before training camp.
The Steelers seemed very protective of his image shortly after his surgery when he stopped by the team offices to pick up his mail. 'No cameras ... or else' was how some quarters of the media perceived it. Roethlisberger stayed out of the public eye for a month, except for an appearance at the Mellon Mario Lemieux Celebrity Invitational golf tournament last month. But he made no public comments and I saw no photos of him from the event, did you?
Then Roethlisberger held a coming-out tour. He was everywhere these past few days. He was interviewed by Jim Rome, appeared at the ESPYs and interviewed again on Good Morning America. Then he played at the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, where he planned to hold a press conference. Next week, he'll be taping the Povertyneck Hillbillies video.
Now there's no mystery. I wasn't sure what to expect when Roethlisberger arrived at camp. Maybe he'd have a Hank Williams Jr. thing going on, with a return to the full beard and big sunglasses to hide his scars. But there's a little leftover blood around his irises. That's it. Move along ... nothing to see here, folks.
I don't know if it was planned this way, but it looks pretty smart right now. The Steelers don't need any more distractions with camp just a couple of weeks away. First-round draft pick Santonio Holmes has legal issues and hasn't signed yet. I haven't heard any guarantees he'll be at St. Vincent College on July 28. But the focus should be on Holmes. Usually the big attraction of camp is the first-round draft pick and that is especially true when he is a skill player. It's even truer when that skill player is supposed to be the best wide receiver coming out of the draft, which is what Holmes is.
Then you have this thing about Bill Cowher and how much longer he'll coach the team. You know that's going to come up again. That's two too many distractions for a team with a giant target on its back. And who knows what training camp itself will bring. Injuries? Contract issues? Another Joey Porter sound bite? Cowher will start shouting Who Dey? again?
The cameras will still follow Roethlisberger, naturally, but it will be more to see if there's any sign of rust, any sign of regression in his play that could be attributed to the accident. The guy just won a Super Bowl, so you would think he'd get cut a little slack, but I think the scrutiny will be even worse now. Steelers fans want this ride to go to the top again and Roethlisberger has to take them there. Hopefully, he'll get off a solid start and build to a strong finish before the opener with Miami. A sluggish start will only open the door to mounting speculation about the lingering physical and psychological effects of the accident, legitimate or not.
The team recently released its training camp schedule. Be warned. It was crowded at St. Vincent College last year and it will probably be insane this year. By all indications, Roethlisberger should be ready to go. That's his plan anyway, and if you see this past week's developments as I do, the plan is already in motion.