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fordfixer
10-18-2010, 01:22 AM
Fans cheer Ben Roethlisberger's return
By Bob Cohn, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, October 18, 2010
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 04847.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_704847.html)

From seat 21, row B, section 138 at Heinz Field on Sunday, Tim Rankins shot pictures of pregame warmups, focusing on one player in particular. Others did the same.

Once again, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stood in the crosshairs, but this time from where he was supposed to be.

"I'm really excited to see him back," Rankins, who is from Albany, N.Y., said before the Steelers' 28-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

Roethlisberger returned to the field after a four-game NFL suspension and six months of allegations, apologies, speculation and constant chatter about his off-field behavior.

"If he throws for 500 yards, no one will remember that," Rankins said of the controversy. "If he throws four interceptions, everyone will be all over him."

Roethlisberger reached neither of those extremes. The Steelers instead outmuscled and outplayed an inferior opponent as the quarterback returned to form after an emotional and slightly jittery start.

Nobody's perfect, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Anxious" is how receiver Mike Wallace described him.

Roethlisberger got a warm reception when he came out to loosen up, then a thunderous ovation during introductions as he jogged from the tunnel wearing a backward ball cap, raising first his left arm, then his right.

"Amazing," he said. "That was part of the emotions. I got a little bit of tears in my eyes. To hear them cheer like that was truly something special. ... It was truly awesome to hear the fans."

A banner strung from the rotunda read, "Big Ben. Godsend." Another read, "Ben's Back. Stay Focused. Hinesville, Ga."

But it is unlikely that Roethlisberger had Georgia on his mind.

Outside, a small group of protesters voiced their distaste with Roethlisberger, who has twice fended off sexual assault allegations.

The most recent time, when a 20-year-old Georgia college student claimed that he assaulted her in a restroom last March, led NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend the two-time Super Bowl winner for violating the league's personal conduct policy, even though he was not arrested and no charges were filed. There were awkward apologies, outcries from fans, the incessant drone of a story that wouldn't go away.

Even the Steelers' owners angrily denounced him and fielded trade inquiries.

Finally, after lying low while separated from his teammates (he did work out with a quarterback coach), after a carefully orchestrated round of interviews in which Roethlisberger expressed contrition and regret for some of his behavior, it was time to play.

He threw an interception in the first quarter, but that was the only one. His three touchdown passes were as many as the Steelers had in the season's first four games.

Roethlisberger completed 7 of 11 passes for 80 yards, one touchdown and the interception as the Steelers clung to a 7-3 lead at halftime. In the second half, he was 9 of 16 for 177 yards and two touchdowns, leading a five-play, 96-yard drive that put the Steelers ahead, 14-3, late in the third quarter. That would be enough against an ineffectual Cleveland offense led by a rookie quarterback making his NFL debut.

"You get jitters before any game," Roethlisberger said. "I do, at least. Coming out for this game obviously was no different, maybe even more so. But at halftime you kind of get a chance to settle down and talk about it. You've got to come out and kind of compose yourself in the second half."

Despite his welcome, some fans were willing to forgive but not entirely forget.

"Did he do something stupid? Yes," said Bob "B.J." Jones of Braddock Hills, who was wearing a No. 7 Roethlisberger jersey. "Did he do something illegal? I don't believe so. I'm happy to have him back. I support him 100 percent."

"I threw away all my Ben jerseys," said Debbie Findlay, a season-ticket holder who traveled from Austinwith her mom to be here. "I was upset. I believed something happened. He showed poor judgment. I would not have been upset if the (Steelers) had traded him."

And now? "I'm pleased with the way he's conducted himself," she said. "I hope he is truly remorseful. Now it's time to put it on the field."

Which is what he did.

"We won the game," Roethlisberger said. "And we did pretty well on offense."