View Full Version : Big Ben leading the way

09-07-2008, 12:39 AM
Big Ben leading the way
By John Harris
Sunday, September 7, 2008

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 86911.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_586911.html)

Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor didn't recognize the incoming number on his cell phone when he answered one day in late February.

"Who is this?" Taylor asked.


It took Taylor by surprise.

"I said, 'Wow.'"

"Ben" of course is Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers franchise quarterback, a first-round draft pick in 2004 who became the youngest starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl, who eclipsed Terry Bradshaw's team record for touchdown passes in a season last year.

Taylor was a fourth-round draft pick in 2003. He lost his starting job for several games in 2006 under former coach Bill Cowher but has rebounded to become the Steelers' top cornerback under second-year coach Mike Tomlin.

Offensive and defensive players normally don't spend much time together because they're often in positional meetings and tend to gravitate toward players on their side of the ball.

Taylor was impressed that Roethlisberger took the time to call.

"He could have called an offensive guy to see what's going on. But he called me. That's big, coming from the quarterback," Taylor said.

Roethlisberger, 26, and Taylor, 28, are private men who are as different as they are alike.

Roethlisberger is from Findlay, a small town in northwest Ohio. Taylor grew up in the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, where friends and family members experienced the devastation of Hurricane Katrina three years ago and Hurricane Gustav last week.

Once they began talking, the two relative strangers realized how much they had in common.

"Now when we talk, it's not just about football," Taylor said. "It's, 'Hey, how you doing, how's the family?' From the time I'm in Pittsburgh to whenever, (the friendship) is on."

A couple of days after he called Taylor, Roethlisberger agreed to an eight-year contract extension worth as much as $102 million, making him one of the highest-paid players in the NFL.

Taylor was floored.

"He didn't call me about his contract. He called just to see how I was doing," Taylor said. "That was deep."

Reaching out

That simple phone call may be one of the signs of Roethlisberger maturing -- not only as a player but as a leader of the Steelers. He makes his 56th career NFL start in today's season opener against the Houston Texans at Heinz Field.

"Ike was one of the guys I wanted to reach out to, one of the first guys I reached out to this offseason, because I felt like Ike is misunderstood sometimes by the media and by fans because -- like he said -- he's a quiet guy," Roethlisberger said.

"Whether people take him as cocky or he thinks he's too good, well, let me tell you something -- Ike's one of the best cornerbacks in this league. Physically and mentally, he's just a phenomenal player. I wanted to reach out to him to try to develop a friendship.

"We're not best friends, we're not talking every day and hanging out, but I consider Ike more than just a teammate now," Roethlisberger said. "I consider him a friend and someone I would go to bat for any day of the week. If I had to play against him on Sundays, I would be afraid to throw to that side."

Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said he's noticed a difference in how Roethlisberger interracts with his teammates.

"Ben is a great quarterback, and great quarterbacks are leaders of their offense. He understands that a little bit more this year," said Keisel, one of Roethlisberger's closest friends on the team. "He knows that Alan (Faneca) is gone, and Alan was a big leader on the offense. Someone needs to pick up that slack and what better person than the quarterback?"

The normally reclusive Roethlisberger offered rare insight into his character and subsequent personality change in a recent interview.

"People may think that I'm mean or I'm stuck-up or I'm snotty. No, I'm just a quiet person. I'd rather know about you than you know about me," Roethlisberger said. "Once you get to know me, you realize that I can be pretty outgoing and goofy and fun."

During three weeks of training camp and the Steelers' four preseason games, Roethlisberger was a popular figure, pulling aside teammates for private conversations, or engaging them in horseplay as he did with Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison during a recent practice.

Prior to the final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field, Roethlisberger greeted every one of his teammates during warm-ups.

"It's that time. As the quarterback, the Steelers have made a long-term commitment to me," said Roethlisberger, whose teammates voted him an offensive co-captain for the first time.

"It's time to be more of a leader, but being sensitive that we still have leaders on the team -- Hines Ward on offense, (James) Farrior on defense, as well as other guys. I didn't want to come in and step on anybody's toes. I easily could have.

"I know guys that have done it, that could come in and be like, 'Listen, this is my team. I'm the quarterback. I'm the leader. You guys listen to me.' And they're hootin' and hollering. That's just not my style."

Roethlisberger said that although he has always been close with his offensive teammates, he realized he needed to reach out to more players.

"I made the conscious effort this offseason of trying to interract with everybody," Roethlisberger said. "I wanted to reach out to the defensive guys because I haven't gotten to know those guys, spend much time with them, and talk to them.

"I've been so caught up last year and the year before. Trying to learn the offense last year, and the year before trying to get back from the injury (resulting from a severe motorcycle accident). Not necessarily tune guys out, but I was so concerned with myself in trying to get right, that I almost lost focus on what was important in how to be a good teammate."

Said Taylor: "Regardless of how people want to look at him or what they want to say about him, Ben's very quiet. He minds his own business. He came into his own as being the leader of this team. Everything pretty much rides on his shoulders. Especially after signing that new contract. It's his team."

Roethlisberger said the changes have been good for everyone.

"Sometimes when I'm on the sideline or at practice, we're not always talking football," Roethlisberger said. "I'm a little more comfortable with this offense now, I know what's going on. I can afford to go talk to guys, joke around. I've been able to open up to them as they've opened up to me. We've all become closer and better friends for it."

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

Steps to become a leader.

09-07-2008, 12:49 AM
One of the first things I noticed about Ben was that he went over and talked to every one of his teammate during warmups before games even when he was just a rookie. He has that "it" that makes him a winner and a leader, and I'm glad that others are starting to see it since a lot of the immaturity from the younger helmetless motorcycle riding days seem to have passed. I wouldn't trade Ben for anyone. He's younger than Brady or Peyton, and I wonder if those guys would be able to have the same success Ben has had in the face of the pressure Ben has faced on a regular basis. Those two guys have been like bubble boys in the pocket by comparsion.