View Full Version : Big Ben's five-year credentials already smell Cantonese

01-26-2009, 10:12 AM
Jan. 25, 2009
By Clark Judge
CBSSports.com Senior Writer

We interrupt the debate over Kurt Warner's future as a Hall of Fame candidate to discuss the possibility of another potential Hall of Fame quarterback, one who will be coming to your TV den soon.

It's not Brett Favre, and it's not Peyton Manning. It's Ben Roethlisberger, and let me explain before getting booed off this stage.

In five NFL seasons Roethlisberger has been to four playoffs, three conference championship games and, after next weekend, two Super Bowls. That's a good start. He threw more than 30 touchdown passes last year. He has a winning percentage of 72.5. And he's 7-2 in the playoffs, including 1-for-1 in Super Bowls.

Game. Set. Match.

OK, so he's young and, to quote coach Mike Tomlin's favorite poet, has miles to go before he sleeps. But if we can talk about how Warner's value, why can't we start looking at Big Ben's? I mean, the guy is one of the league's most underappreciated quarterbacks, and the evidence is your knee-jerk reaction once I mentioned those words linked now with Warner.

Hall ... of ... Fame.

"I definitely think he's on that track," said former head coach Jim Fassel, now an analyst for Westwood One radio. "He's still young, but he's going to be in a lot of Super Bowls. Let's say you duplicate or triplicate what he's done his first five years. That puts him in -- what? -- six Super Bowls? Absolutely, he's a potential Hall of Famer."

I can already hear you choking on that BLT, but listen up: Bob Griese is in the Hall of Fame because he was an eight-time Pro Bowl player who quarterbacked marvelous Dolphins teams and went to three conference championship games and two Super Bowls.

OK, fine. But there is no other quarterback in Canton who provokes more of a debate, maybe because Griese threw only 20 more touchdowns (192) than interceptions (172), never had more than 22 TD passes in a season and was part of a club not known for its passing.

Now let's go his polar opposite. Denver's John Elway was an automatic first-ballot choice for Canton, and no explanation is needed: All you had to do was watch him play. He was one of the most gifted and successful quarterbacks to pass through the NFL.

But let's look at his first five seasons. He had eight more touchdowns (85) than interceptions (77), completed 54 percent of his passes and never threw more than 22 TD passes in a season. In short, his numbers were ... well, ordinary.

But he won, and I bet you can see where this is going. He led the 1986 Broncos to the Super Bowl. He led the 1987 Broncos to the Super Bowl. And that, folks, is when people started pumping the guy for Canton.

So tell me why we can't do the same with Roethlisberger.

"He does what he has to do to win games," said Fassel, who coached Elway at Stanford and the Denver Broncos. "I'm not comparing him to Elway, but look what John did his first few years. He had the great comebacks and all that, and that's what made him so good. But look at his numbers until 1993, and they're not dramatic.

"John made big plays when he had to carry the team on his back, which is what Roethlisberger does. He's at his best when he needs to be at his best. Sure, he has an outstanding defense, but so did John his first few years, which is why he didn't have the great numbers."

Roethlisberger had big numbers last season, but that was the exception. Normally, he's more efficient than he is overwhelming, doing what he must to win. As Fassel said, he's at his best when his team needs him to be, which it did this season when Pittsburgh pulled off a raft of come-from-behind victories.

But let's not stop there. When Pittsburgh held off AFC favorite Indianapolis three years ago to advance to the conference championship game, it was none other than Roethlisberger who made a game-saving tackle of Nick Harper after the Colts defensive back scooped up a Jerome Bettis fumble and seemed headed for the go-ahead touchdown.

Big Ben was outnumbered three to one by Colts, yet he still made the stop.

"Ben saved the year for us," said wide receiver Hines Ward.

So why doesn't he get more attention? I mean, if you talk about what makes the Steelers tick you start with the league's top-ranked defense, pump up coordinator Dick LeBeau, move over to Hines Ward, shift to the team's trap running game, the club's storied history and its stable ownership, then get around to Roethlisberger somewhere before dessert is served.

"Things have worked against him," said an AFC offensive coordinator. "He has the best defense in the league, so people ask, 'Is it the defense or is it him?' He typically has one of the top five rushing attacks in the league. So is it him or the other two?

"But with the combination of the three, he's a miracle worker. If he had just an ordinary defense or running game, the guy would be unbelievable because he would be forced to make plays."

Even with the league's top-ranked defense, he still is forced to make plays. Look at that 92-yard game-winning drive against Baltimore last month. Roethlisberger hit seven of 11 passes, including six for first downs, and won the game in the last minute by scrambling away from a furious pass rush and finding Santonio Holmes with a pass he considered dumping.

Fast forward one month, and he pulls the same trick in the AFC Championship Game, again against Baltimore. Flushed to his left, he is about to get hammered when he launches an off-balance pass back to his right -- a pass he considered throwing away -- and it's Holmes who makes the reception again.

Only this time he turns it into a 65-yard touchdown.

"He keeps a play alive," said our coordinator. "It's not a five-step drop and throw the ball if it's there; it's a five-step drop and scramble if the play is not there. He's going to make things up and extend the play.

"He makes it hard to tackle him because he's so strong. He has good feet in the pocket. And he has great downfield vision.

"Some of (his success) has to do with his guys getting open when he scrambles. They never quit on a play. They play hard. There are no dogs out there, and I mean when he starts to scramble they don't shut it down. They are always working for him. But I think the guy's unbelievable."

So do I. He doesn't produce the flashy numbers of Manning or Tom Brady. He just wins. As a rookie he was 14-1. The following year he became the youngest starting quarterback in league history to win a Super Bowl, getting there after three straight road victories. His career passer rating is the best in Pittsburgh history. So are his 32 touchdowns in one season.

So tell me why we're not talking about his place in Canton.

"I think it's because he got labeled as a rookie when he went into games and was told, 'Just don't lose it,'" said an AFC player personnel director. "That label stuck with him. He has the league's best defense and Dick LeBeau. He has Hines Ward as his best receiver. And he has had Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker as running backs. But he should get more credit.

"It sort of reminds me a little of [Hall of Fame quarterback] Bart Starr. He didn't have to make big plays because the Packers had a good defense and good running game. But he won a lot of championships -- and Roethisberger will, too. The guy is underappreciated and undervalued."

I'll second that.


Mel Blount's G
01-26-2009, 10:54 AM
I do not like this talk - yet. I know why, etc, etc.. I'd just like him to win this sunday before we put his BUST in the h.o.f.