a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Big Ben mania is giving me a headache

Ben Roethlisberger before his latest scandal (Observer-Reporter/Greg Tarr)
It would appear Pittsburgh and even America is obsessed with pro-football superstar Benjamin Todd "Big Ben" Roethlisberger as the regular NFL season begins this week and the Steelers quarterback's image remains tarnished by his alleged off-field indiscretions.

No sooner had my airplane touched down Aug. 28 for a much-needed vacation out West did a Salt Lake City, Utah, hotel bartender ask me about the future of the Steelers after I identified myself to him as being from Pittsburgh. And then the conversation quickly  turned to the team's strong safety, Troy Polamalu, and his ridiculous head of hair, which reports indicate has been insured for $1 million.

Similar conversations about Ben being suspended by the NFL for four regular games over "that bathroom incident" with a young woman in Georgia this summer, as well as Troy's hairdo, continued across Wyoming, Idaho and Montana as soon as strangers recognized my Pittsburgh accent.

The goal was to get away for a week from all this drama that has played so heavily on the hearts of my beloved City of Champions.

No sooner was I back home that unrelated obligations required me to attend tonight a charity event in Washington, Pa., hosted by EQT Corp., an energy giant that graciously hosted a Steelers pre-season panel discussion. The topic there centered almost exclusively for more than an hour on Mr. Roesthlisberger among guest speakers Ellis Cannon, Edmund Nelson and Dale Lolley. The discussion was interesting, nonetheless.

"Let's not act as if we're at a funeral because Ben is not going to be there for four weeks," said Nelson, a KDKA analyst and former Steelers tackle. "I don't give Ben the credit nearly everyone else does," he said, evoking applause from the ballroom at Holiday Inn Meadowlands.

Nelson said he isn't writing this Super Bowl-winning team off simply because its quarterback will be watching from the sidelines Sunday when the team hosts Atlanta.

"It's an interesting dynamic this season. No team has ever gone through what the Steelers are right now with their starting quarterback suspended," added Lolley, who covers the team for the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa.

Lolley said Roethlisberger showed up for spring training this year looking in better physical shape than ever, and also appearing to be kissing babies and "taking on the job to reinvent himself."

This will continue to be the storyline throughout the season, said Cannon, a radio personality who publishes "Pittsburgh Sports Report."

Win or lose, it will be all about "having Ben or not having Ben," Cannon said.

OK. That said, it's my turn at the commentary.

Troy - get your mop cut like a man. Big hair went out of style in the 1980s.

Ben - boys and girls from Polish Hill in Pittsburgh to South Greensburg, Pa., have already taken down your posters from their bedrooms. It might be too late for you to grow up here.

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