TAMPA, Fla. -- Somehow, Ben Roethlisberger missed the gigantic photograph of him plastered on the outside of Raymond James Stadium -- the one so large that it can be seen from blocks away, if not from outer space.
Or so he says.
The suspicion here is that it's just one way Big Ben is attempting to make the Big Game seem a little smaller to him. His ultra-casual approach to media sessions since arriving here Monday for Super Bowl XLIII is another. Roethlisberger even brought along his camcorder, which he used during Media Day on Tuesday to videotape the horde of reporters and photographers from around the world gathered in front of his platform and throughout one side of the stadium.
And it all makes sense. Three years ago, in his second season quarterbacking the Pittsburgh Steelers, Roethlisberger allowed Super Bowl XL to overwhelm him. He developed a bad case of nerves before the game and never shook them, which showed in his performance. Roethlisberger freely admits that his play didn't help the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-10.
"It almost helped us lose it," he said of his completing 9 of 21 passes for 123 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a rating of 22.6 (lowest of any Super Bowl-winning quarterback).
Roethlisberger did run for a touchdown, but that wasn't enough to make him forget how poorly he threw the ball. He still can't be certain of exactly what happened to him on Feb. 5, 2006, at Detroit's Ford Field. Even in those early stages of his NFL career, nerves had never been a problem. If they acted up before a game, they usually settled down after the first play. Roethlisberger had no problem dealing with big games at Miami of Ohio, although playing for the Mid-American Conference championship isn't quite the same as playing for a national title, and it's a world of difference from a Super Bowl.
But Roethlisberger understands that he needs to see Super Bowl XLIII the same way he saw the MAC title and the same way he saw any of the games the Steelers played on the way to their 12-4 finish. He must pretend that what the Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals are deciding Sunday is not the NFL championship.
Roethlisberger is convinced he can pull it off.
"I expect it to be different this time," he said. "I'm going to go into it and treat it like it's just another football game and go out and have fun. Don't get too overwhelmed with it."
Roethlisberger acts as if he is having fun with the hype, joking with reporters and wearing a perpetual smile. He brushes aside hot-button topics, such as whether the fact Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt was his first offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh will give the Cardinals a possible edge because he knows Big Ben's game so well.
|Harry How / Getty Images|
|Ben Roethlisberger scored a touchdown, but he didn't do much else to help the Steelers win Super Bowl XL.|
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"When push comes to shove, the guys are playing football on the field," Roethlisberger said. "You can only coach so much. (Steelers) Coach (Mike) Tomlin is only going to have so much of an effect in this game, as is coach Whiz or Russ Grimm (another former Pittsburgh offensive assistant now with Arizona). It's all about the players playing."
The attitude is a continuation of what Roethlisberger displayed during the regular season and has shown during the playoffs. He has done a better job of not allowing mistakes or bad games to eat away at him to the point where they become a distraction. He has gotten good at moving on to the next play and the next game.
It is a large part of the reason the Steelers are playing in their second Super Bowl in the last four years -- why Roethlisberger, who is the youngest quarterback to win the big game, can join Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks to win two Super Bowls by age 26.
Roethlisberger has mostly stayed within himself with his performance, minimizing the chances he takes with the ball. In two postseason games, he has thrown just two touchdown passes but no interceptions. Of course, Roethlisberger does have some daredevil tendencies. The defining part of his game is the ability to make good things happen on the run. Roethlisberger has a knack for extending plays with his feet -- moving up, back and sideways in the pocket. Sometimes, it's a source of frustration for his coaches and his linemen because it results in a sack.
But sometimes it can result in a big play. Roethlisberger made one of the biggest in the Steelers' AFC Championship Game victory over the Baltimore Ravens. On third-and-9 with the Ravens blitzing, Roethlisberger stepped up in the pocket, then to his left. And just as he was about to throw the ball out of bounds, he noticed Santonio Holmes open on a shallow pattern to the right. Roethlisberger threw the ball, Holmes made the catch at the Baltimore 47 and ran the rest of the way for a 65-yard touchdown. That gave the Steelers a 13-0 lead on the way to their 23-14 victory.
The Ravens' heavy blitzing did result in four sacks, but Roethlisberger mostly took advantage of it with his ability to scramble and buy time and make plays, just as the one to Holmes.
"We didn't want him escaping too much because that's where he tends to make most of his plays," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "He's a good quarterback. It's his ability to make plays why he is who he is, so you take your hat off to him."
Not an easy thing for a player to say about a member of an arch-rival.
But Roethlisberger merits those compliments. He is coming into his own as a more mature, accomplished quarterback, even if his numbers might not reflect as much. Working behind an offensive line that struggled because of injuries, Roethlisberger was sacked an NFL-high 46 times during the regular season, which contributed to his ranking near the bottom of the AFC and the league with a passer rating of 80.1. Although he had a fairly modest total of scoring throws (17), he did have fewer interceptions (15).
Yet, Roethlisberger is more conscious of the fact that, despite the lack of a consistent running game (something the Steelers had in their previous Super Bowl run), he doesn't have to carry the team on his passing arm. He understands that he has the support of the NFL's top-rated defense, which continually puts the offense in good position.
"I think that's just growing, that's maturing, understanding how the game's played (after five seasons)," Roethlisberger said. "It's knowing that you don't always have to throw for 400 yards to win the football game. You take what they give you and win the game on the last drive if you have to."
"I think he deserves to be mentioned with the top quarterbacks in the league," Steelers tight end Heath Miller said. "I think you should judge a quarterback by wins and losses. When you do that, he's undeniably at the top."
Said Roethlisberger: "A lot of these quarterbacks, they are 'pretty' players. They put up big numbers, but you know what? I'll take a win. I just like to win football games, and I guess that is what I do. I don't care how I do it -- if I throw for 300 yards or 100 yards. If we win the game, that's all that matters to me. Of course, I do want to play better than I did (in the Super Bowl) last time because I felt like I let the guys down and I didn't help them win the game. To me, it's about trying to win another one."
And staying calm in the process.
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