By early Sunday afternoon, Ben Roethlisberger took the field to partake in pregame warm-ups, and minutes before the game, he stood near his empty locker in his return from a four-game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy.
If a stranger had sauntered into the conference room following his sensational performance while on the path to redemption, they wouldn’t have known that he was willing to restore his image and show true remorse. A middle-age man, ready to escape the troubles on his mind and return to dynamic form, is finally maturing and thinking wiser after he had been labeled a malefactor.
So, of course, it would be his chance, in a redemption stage, to prove to fans and teammates that he has taken accountability for his poor judgment and learned from his slip-ups. Haunted all offseason by his stupidity and sexual assault charges, although he wasn’t convicted in either case, Roethlisberger is more fascinating in a forgiving country and loyalists are kindhearted to welcome back the two-time Super Bowl champion.
In his absence, the Steelers were dominant without Big Ben orchestrating a stalwart offense. In his absence, the Steelers managed to win and relied heavily on their stingy defense, which usually defined a brand of resilience and toughness. Last week, he exchanged warmhearted hugs and smiles with his teammates and team executives in a friendly return.
If he has matured since the allegations, presumably he’ll avoid nightclubs on college campuses and intermingle with older women in his age group, not college girls at the wildest parties where numerous girls are intoxicated and, well, where Big Ben is horny.
By now, he clearly knows to avoid another sexual episode that could jeopardize his career and reputation with a franchise that emphasizes strong character. The Rooneys are committed to protecting their public image and exposing an excellent disposition. Though he wasn’t arrested or charged in either case, Roethlisberger had to face reality by serving a six-game suspension that eventually had been reduced to four games when he met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL Sheriff who decided to take lenient measures on a mysterious ordeal.
As it stands, however, Big Ben is a modest and matured individual, ready to escape the lingering scrutiny of his disturbing sex stories. For now, at least, it seems Roethlisberger’s troubles with sexual assault accusations came about from stupidity, foolishly partying with college students and nearly throwing away his rare commodities.
The Steelers, the NFL's most loyal franchise, trusted in Roethlisberger and declared that he’d be the face of the franchise as a valuable team leader. It’s easy to see how he was given a $102-million deal, proudly serving a well-respected, decorated organization before almost damaging a glistening career as his stupidity and senselessness created a frenzy.
In reality, he’s not portrayed as a malefactor and has never been charged with a crime, but Roethlisberger has shown a pattern of allegedly committing rape and inviting college women into the club’s VIP rooms. A long time ago, he wasn't getting the message and wasn't leaving college women alone. Today, he realizes the ramifications involved when he recklessly parties and associates with immoral women who are only looking for a good time, and then once the night is over they suddenly scream "rape!"
The possibility of the Steelers taking up another pursuit is very likely, especially with the return of Roethlisberger, who joined his teammates and led the Steelers to a 28-10 romp over the Cleveland Browns. Surely, he is more humble and grateful, given a second chance to clean up his image and navigate a balanced attack on offense. The Steelers are well-balanced and a pesky team in the AFC North, and poses a viable threat.
Without Roethlisberger's assistance, the Steelers surprisingly have not stumbled, as anticipated, and won three of their first four games with an almighty defense and a relentless rushing attack. With that, the Steelers survived the likes of Atlanta and Tampa Bay, without Roethlisberger handling the snaps and flinging passes. So now, however, the Steelers' faithful believe he’s a changed man, a humble individual with the mindset to lead the Steelers back into title overdrive.
It wouldn’t be premature to admit that he’s remorseful and has been heavily appreciated in the Steel City, a place he has considered home and brought to life, guiding the Steelers to a breathtaking finish for a thrilling Super Bowl victory against the improbable Arizona Cardinals that gave Pittsburgh its sixth title.
The Terrible Towel crowd at Heinz Field still admires Roethlisberger's heroics and clutch finishes. The fans support the troubled megastar, despite accusations of him disrespecting women and evoking a national disturbance. Earlier in the year, the boorish fans pleaded for the Steelers to release Roethlisberger, disgusted by his alleged misdeeds with a college woman in a nightclub in a small-college Georgia town.
By the time he trotted out of the tunnel Sunday, a teary-eyed Roethlisberger greeted the roaring crowd and he received a standing ovation.
In the end, Roethlisberger talked about the crowd reaction, delighted that hundreds cheered loudly and wore his No. 7 jerseys.
“Amazing,” he said. “That was part of the emotion I was feeling. It put tears in my eyes, to hear them cheer like that.”
But in this world, you cannot please everybody.
Some people may never ever anoint Roethlisberger, furious over his off-the-field nonsense. His poor judgment was absolutely unnecessary and outrageous, but some people believe he paid the price when he served a suspension, minimizing the possibility of becoming a fallen star in the most famous league.
“You can tell he’s humbled to be where he’s at,” said Steelers tackle Max Starks. “He’s happy to be back. He appreciates it.”
Sometimes, it takes an awful blunder to instill reality into the minds of big-headed athletes, and he certainly needed a reality check or the next time he might have been convicted on rape charges. Normally, a player is rusty for missing a number of games, but more than ever, Roethlisberger had an impressive 112.7 passer rating. Thrilled to be back with his teammates, he communicated on the sidelines and laughed, cherishing the moment in a game that he accounted for 257 yards and three touchdown passes.
It marked his first dazzling performance since he was accused of sexual assault. He reveled in the cheers that he felt were lost after the accusations, played brilliantly against the division rivals and spoiled Colt McCoy’s NFL debut on Sunday. All praise came in the third quarter on a drive that gave the Steelers a 14-3 lead, when Roethlisberger connected with wideout Mike Wallace for a 50-yard pass. Then, on the next play he tossed a 36-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller, which set up an 8-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward.
On a threshold of redemption, Big Ben repossessed his righteous name and played like a two-time champion, with an aerial spectacle that intensified the crowd. As it seems, the Steelers are in pursuit of capturing instant gratification.
The Big Ben in Pittsburgh is maybe just as valuable as the structure in London.
Only time will tell.