By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Ben Roethlisberger, the popular and prodigious quarterback who led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a Super Bowl triumph in February in only his second NFL season, suffered a broken jaw and other injuries in a motorcycle accident yesterday in Pittsburgh.
Roethlisberger, 24, was not wearing a helmet when the motorcycle he was driving collided with a car at an intersection around 11:15 a.m. He underwent surgery at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh and was listed in serious but stable condition. He reportedly also suffered a broken left sinus cavity bone and had a gash on the back of his head. He lost some teeth.
Doctors said at a news conference last night that Roethlisberger underwent seven hours of surgery to have facial fractures repaired and he had not suffered any injuries to his brain, chest or abdomen.
People close to the situation were hopeful that he would be ready to play for the Steelers at the outset of the NFL season in September. One person familiar with Roethlisberger's injuries, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Roethlisberger had been out of surgery for only about an hour and the Steelers had not officially updated his condition, said the broken jaw was the most serious of the injuries and it should be healed in about seven weeks.
Steelers players and fans gathered at the hospital after hearing news of the accident. Steelers Coach Bill Cowher arrived at the hospital around 9:20 p.m.
Roethlisberger has said publicly that he does not like to wear a helmet while riding his motorcycle, and Pennsylvania's mandatory helmet law was repealed three years ago. Cowher spoke to Roethlisberger about his penchant for riding without a helmet after Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. was injured in a motorcycle accident last year. Winslow missed all of last season. But Roethlisberger remained defiant on the issue and said publicly that he considered himself a safe rider even though he didn't wear a helmet. Roethlisberger's contract, unlike Winslow's, reportedly does not explicitly prohibit him from riding a motorcycle, although NFL players' contracts contain standard clauses about avoiding dangerous activities.
"On behalf of everyone within the Steelers organization, I want to express my concern for Ben Roethlisberger," Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a written statement. "I am sure Ben knows that we are praying for his complete recovery. So far, we have been encouraged by the early reports from the medical team at Mercy Hospital."
According to print and broadcast reports in Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger was riding a motorcycle known for its speed and power, a 2005 Suzuki Hayabusa, when he collided with a Chrysler New Yorker with Maine license plates. The driver of the car was identified as 62-year-old Martha Fleishman of the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill.
The car reportedly was making a left turn toward a bridge and Roethlisberger, traveling in the opposite direction, drove his motorcycle into the passenger side of the vehicle. Roethlisberger flew off his motorcycle and struck the car's windshield headfirst. Witnesses said in various reports that Roethlisberger's head was bleeding heavily and they described him as being conscious but disoriented. Larry Jones, the chief of trauma and burns at Mercy Hospital, said that Roethlisberger was alert before his surgery.
"He was talking to me before he left for the operating room," Jones said, according to the Associated Press. "He's coherent. He's making sense. He knows what happened. He knows where he is. From that standpoint, he's very stable."
No charges were immediately filed stemming from the accident.
Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl when he helped the Steelers to a 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 5 in Detroit. He had been wildly popular with the team's fans even before that game. At the Steelers' training camp last summer in Latrobe, Pa., fans waited for hours after practices to try to get the young quarterback's autograph. His agent, Leigh Steinberg, had limited Roethlisberger's marketing opportunities in his first two seasons, not wanting him to be overexposed, but had loosened the reins a bit after the Super Bowl win. Roethlisberger was scheduled to film a national television ad for Campbell's Chunky Soup with his mother, Brenda, and some of his Steelers teammates today.
The Steelers chose Roethlisberger with the 11th overall selection in the 2004 NFL draft and he helped them to a 15-1 regular season record as a rookie before the club lost in the playoffs to the New England Patriots. Roethlisberger struggled with nagging injuries last season as the Steelers had to scramble just to get into the playoffs, but they began playing well at the right time and Roethlisberger made a key tackle on a fumble by tailback Jerome Bettis in the closing moments of an upset victory at Indianapolis in an AFC semifinal.
The Steelers released one of their backup quarterbacks, Tommy Maddox, this offseason but re-signed another, Charlie Batch, and used a fifth-round draft choice on Bowling Green quarterback Omar Jacobs.