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Big Ben loose, draws laughs as Steelers start preparations

PITTSBURGH -- The new, comedic Big Ben debuted his Super Bowl material.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers went back to work Wednesday after two days off following a 24-19 victory over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game.

This is a familiar routine for the six-time champion Steelers, who are in the Super Bowl for the third time in the last six years. They'll face the Green Bay Packers on Feb. 6 in Arlington, Texas.

But it's a slightly different Roethlisberger this time around, and not because he's trying to become just the fifth quarterback to win three Super Bowls.

No matter how much he downplays it, Roethlisberger overcame quite a bit of adversity in the past year to reach this point. Maybe that's why it seems he's enjoying it a little more than his first two Super Bowl trips.

Roethlisberger cracked some jokes, smiled a lot and poked fun at an out-of-state reporter who referred to jerseys as "sweaters" during a brief session with the media before practice.

Don't be surprised if he tries a few one-liners at Media Day next week.

Asked about playing against PackersPro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews, Roethlisberger pointed out the obvious.

"He's got long hair, he wears no. 52, he plays for the Packers," Roethlisberger said.

Anything else?

"He's an animal. He's really, really good," he said. "We have to account for him and know where he's at. There's not much else to say about one of the best players in the game."

When someone asked Roethlisberger if he was grateful to be here, he couldn't resist.

"That's a silly question," Roethlisberger said. "This is the Super Bowl. It's what you dream of as a kid. I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity just to represent the Steelers and the city of Pittsburgh."

Then a guy must have confused Roethlisberger with Sidney Crosby. The QB didn't miss taking a slap shot.

"Sweater? Are you a Canadian guy? You said sweater. That's hockey. We put jerseys on," Roethlisberger said, drawing a loud roar from the throng.

"It's such an honor every day to know you play for an organization like this with ownership like the Rooneys, coaches like (Chuck) Noll, (Bill) Cowher, (Mike) Tomlin and the players that have graced the locker room at Three Rivers Stadium and now here. There's way too many to name. It's awesome to be a part of that and to be able say you are a part of it forever."

Roethlisberger wasn't always so quotable, so cooperative, so accessible. He's a different person now. Circumstances made him change. His image needed an overhaul.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for four games to start the season for violating the league's personal-conduct policy. He was accused in March of sexual assault of a 20-year-old college student, but a prosecutor in Georgia declined to bring charges.

Roethlisberger didn't talk to reporters for months following those allegations, but he showed up to training camp with a new, improved personality. Gone was the self-absorbed Roethlisberger, who had irritated some of his veteran teammates with a what's-in-it-for-me attitude.

He wasn't rude, he signed autographs, he kidded other players and became media-friendly. So much so that the Pittsburgh chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association voted overwhelmingly to present him with a media cooperation award that is named for Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr. Past winners include Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney, Rod Woodson, Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward.

"He's matured a whole lot," said wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, who returned to the Steelers after spending the last four years with the Washington Redskins. "And that's evident from the first Super Bowl he played in to the one he played in '08. A very different quarterback -- more confidence, I would say. Certainly, more aware of the offense and where guys need to be and stuff like that. He's light years from where he was when he went to the Super Bowl the first time."

Roethlisberger's punishment was a tough one, especially since he's a fierce competitor who does whatever it takes to win games. He has played through a broken nose and a badly injured right foot.

Teammates understood how difficult it was for Roethlisberger to sit out the first month, and they admire his win-at-all-costs mentality.

"We all knew it wasn't easy for him to be away from the team," tight end Heath Miller said. "In many respects, this is his team. When he came back, there were no words that needed to be said, no apologies. We knew he was ready to lead us to the Super Bowl."

Given his past off-the-field problems and where he is now, Roethlisberger probably will be asked the same question more than a hundred times before kickoff against the Packers.

"What was the impact of everything you went through earlier this year on you getting to this point?

Without hesitation, as if he already had prepared the answer, Roethlisberger replied: "That's a reflective question. Now's not the time for me to reflect. Now's the time for me to focus on a really, really big game."

It sure is a big one. Winning would put Roethlisberger in elite company with Tom Brady and Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman.

"I'm not thinking about winning one yet," he said. "I'm thinking about preparing this week for a huge game against a great defense."

Hmm. Wonder what the old Big Ben would've said.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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