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Roethlisberger passes on reflection, keeps focus on the field

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Ben Roethlisberger was ready for this onslaught.

If two previous Super Bowl appearances taught him anything, it is that being evasive isn't limited to staying away from pass rushers. It also comes in pretty handy when trying to steer clear of countless pesky questions from reporters.

And Big Ben fully expected to get more than his share of those during the Pittsburgh Steelers' portion of Tuesday's media day at Cowboys Stadium.

This was the largest gathering of reporters -- with thousands from throughout the world making it here despite treacherous driving conditions brought on by a snow and ice storm -- he has faced since his April suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy in connection with his being accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old female college student in Georgia.

The media did its best to try to get Roethlisberger to do some reflecting. However, what the Steelers' quarterback has done while facing microphones and cameras since he and his teammates arrived in North Texas on Monday is a whole lot of deflecting. And smiling. Despite battling a cold, Roethlisberger has seemingly worn a perpetual grin since stepping off the Steelers' chartered flight. In fact, no player from the Steelers or Green Bay Packers appears happier to be here.

Roethlisberger has approached the week as if he doesn't have a care in the world, including any pressure that might be associated with a certain game scheduled for Sunday. When someone asks him how he has changed from a year ago, he says he is "a little bit older" and also points out that he has a beard. When the follow-up specifically addresses whether he is interacting with his teammates any differently, Roethlisberger goes vanilla again, saying, "I enjoy playing the game, I enjoy being around my guys. We get along great, and I think this year has shown that. And our friendships have grown, all of us."

That clearly was Big Ben's way of addressing a report, which surfaced Monday, quoting Roger Goodell as saying that two dozen players from around the league didn't have much in the way of positive comments about Roethlisberger during the commissioner's investigation before deciding to suspend him for six games (he later reduced it to four). The story actually indicated the two dozen players were members of the Steelers before being corrected a day later.

Several of Roethlisberger's teammates have been quick to come to his defense. And linebacker James Farrior provided as candid and insightful an observation about how much Roethlisberger has changed when he said: "I think he's been more of a guy to hang around with everybody in the locker room now. He used to just come in, take a shower, and leave. I think now he understands how much we care about him and how much he means and how much he's part of this team. He's taking the time to really get to know everybody and really talk to everybody. He's been a great leader throughout the season since he got back. He's done a great job throughout the season."

Defensive end Brett Keisel, who is Roethlisberger's closest friend on the team, thinks the biggest change in the quarterback is that he is taking life at a slower pace.

"He's stepped back and put his slippers on at his house and made a nice, warm fire and just slowed down a little bit," Keisel said.

Considering that Roethlisberger is about to start in his third Super Bowl since the 2005 season, he must be doing something right. He clearly has been able to maintain tremendous focus in the face of something that would figure to be highly distracting, including the report regarding Goodell's comments that got the week off to the wrong kind of start for Roethlisberger and the Steelers.

The way veteran wide receiver Hines Ward sees it, the Steelers' Super Bowl run was largely driven by the Roethlisberger controversy, beginning with their 3-1 start without the quarterback (which, had it not been for a late rally by Baltimore, could have easily been 4-0) and the emergence of several players helping to make sure it wouldn't bring the team down.

"To have that hunger and desire and determination that he wants to go out and he wants to lead this team and have another great year, he's done that," Ward said. "I think by going through that, it made us a closer team, because we had different guys stepping up. That's the reason that we're here."

Roethlisberger tells those of us who try to probe into his feelings that we have asked a "reflective question" and proceeds to say that this isn't the time for him to reflect, because he still has one more game to think about.

But when someone asked if he feels any extra motivation to win this Super Bowl, Roethlisberger's response seemed to make perfect sense: "Extra motivation? If you need extra motivation to win a Super Bowl, there's probably something wrong with you."

About the only revealing comment Roethlisberger has made so far is saying that he wants to be a "role model" and likes to see kids wearing his No. 7 jersey. For the record, Roethlisberger displayed a great deal of patience during media day when a couple of young boys, serving as reporters (one from Weekly Reader), asked him questions such as whether he had any pregame rituals ("I go around and shake hands with everybody on the team, including Coach (Mike) Tomlin.").

Notice the team-unity theme that has been a large part of his dialogue this week.

Roethlisberger also talks about having "inner peace," which he says begins with a greater appreciation for family and faith, and being thankful for every day he wakes up and for the chance to play in his third Super Bowl. He has been using the video camera on his smart phone to record the beginning of every media encounter, because "you never know when it's going to be your last (Super Bowl)."

As far as Roethlisberger is concerned, rising to the challenge of being the "better person" that critics said he wasn't capable of becoming is the same as overcoming obstacles for success on the field.

To that end, he has sought the advice of several people, including his father and his pastor. Former Steelers running back and current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge also has provided counsel on how to deal with the media, and Roethlisberger apparently was paying attention. The Pittsburgh media that regularly covers the Steelers actually gave him an award for his cooperation this season.

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"I wasn't always the nicest guy to them (in the past), and I can admit that," he said. "I know that they're doing their job, and I can't take things personally that they say or write. I hope (that award) shows that I've been better to work with and easier to work with."

Keisel insists there has never been any doubt about the support Roethlisberger has had from his teammates.

"I think everyone was behind Ben all along," he said. "What happened was unfortunate and everyone's moved past it. This team knows what Ben's capable of. We know the leader he is in the locker room and how important he is and we've been behind him all along."

Added Tomlin, "Ben is a highly respected member of our football team. Not only because of what he's done this year, but just as large is his body of work, the person that he is. We all fall short of perfection, we all make mistakes. His are well-documented. He's doing the best that he can in terms of moving forward with it, as have his teammates."

So far this week -- and, for that matter, this season - Roethlisberger's best has been nothing short of remarkable. Super Bowl experience will do that for you.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) rushes during an NFL football game between the between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)

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