By Tony Kornheiser
Wednesday, September 6, 2006
One of the things you learn in the post-O.J. world is that it's a mistake to say you really know an athlete and it's a mistake to ascribe to an athlete all sorts of wonderful character traits because, really, sportswriters only see these guys for limited amounts of time and in very controlled circumstances. But one of the young athletes I've come to like is Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers' quarterback. He's been a guest a number of times on "PTI," where he's been very open, chatty and good-humored. Wilbon and I have seen him outside the locker room and, again, he's been open, chatty and good-humored.
I've come to quietly root for him, as I do for a lot of the good "PTI" guests -- the "I" in "PTI" stands for "me" -- like Tiki Barber and Phil Mickelson. So the tumultuous offseason events that have befallen Roethlisberger get my attention on a visceral level. He had that motorcycle accident, where he was famously without his helmet, and he was lucky to survive it, let alone be physically fit enough to play football this year. He has that recurring thumb problem on his throwing hand that now seems chronic. You'd have to think that, long-term, that could be terribly detrimental to his ability to throw the ball and perhaps career-shortening. Then, over the weekend, he had the emergency appendectomy. For most people, that's a trifecta of trouble, boys and girls. He'll miss at least the opener, and it's hard to imagine him being at 100 percent efficiency in the next few games, whenever he plays -- maybe as soon as my second "MNF" game, Pittsburgh at Jacksonville. (That's why I didn't take him in my fantasy draft; I like him, but I don't liiiikkkke him.)
I don't want to get into a "My Name Is Earl" thing, but Roethlisberger is the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. And he made that fabulous game-saving tackle (and maybe Super Bowl-making tackle) in the playoffs against the Colts after Jerome Bettis had fumbled. I sit here and ask myself, did his karma turn bad? A couple of weeks ago, I talked to Roethlisberger before the Steelers-Eagles preseason game and he said he was profoundly changed by surviving the motorcycle accident. "I know a lot of people say this, but I truly now think that every play could be my last," he said. That quote is the first thing I thought of when I heard about his appendectomy and I wonder if, late at night these days, Ben Roethlisberger ever looks around and says to himself, "What exactly is going on here?"