By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 1, 2011; 11:32 PM
ARLINGTON, TEX. - Ben Roethlisberger sat on the platform and counted down the final seconds of media day aloud. Five . . . he'd answered every question. . . Four . . . from the inane to the probing . . . Three . . . and yet somehow . . . Two . . . he'd managed to go through the entire 60-minute exercise . . . One . . . with a smile on his face.
Roethlisberger survived what could have been a nerve-racking media day. For the most part, he wasn't forced to relive the sexual assault accusation and the events that led to his four-game suspension. Instead, many of the questions he fielded focused on facial hair and reality television. There were even a couple about Sunday's Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers.
"I think it went well," Roethlisberger said as media day came to a close. "You have to enjoy it because this could be the last time I sit up here, so why not?"
Both have put their names among the league's upper echelon. But for each, a win Sunday would carry a lot of weight. Rodgers is aiming to validate his standing with his first Super Bowl win, and Roethlisberger could cut-and-paste his name into new parts of the game's history books. He could become just the fifth quarterback to win more than two Super Bowls.
"For Aaron, until you get that ring, that tends to be one of the caveats you've got to have," said Brian Billick, a Super Bowl-winning former coach who now serves as an analyst for the NFL Network. "Ben's got two of them. I don't know what else he needs to do. Obviously that legacy would grow if he gets another one. I think he belongs among the elite quarterbacks in the league. He looks different than the other guys, but certainly his success qualifies for it."
Roethlisberger says Sunday's game isn't about statistics, style points don't matter and he's not basking in redemption or any other stock, heart-warming theme the Super Bowl seems to inspire each year.
"For me, I can't reflect now," he said. "I have to think about this game."
But he does concede he's a different person from the one who's already twice hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Since then, he's twice been accused of sexual assault. Though Roethlisberger was never charged with a crime, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was displeased with the quarterback's behavior and Roethlisberger publicly entered a stern course of NFL image rehab. Before taking the podium at media day, Roethlisberger said he prayed and read from his Bible. He knew some tough questions could be coming, but he wanted to enjoy the day as much as possible. He spoke, at times, like some bearded sage who's persevered through great trials, self-created and otherwise.
"Inner peace is a great thing when you have it," he said. "If you know what it is, I think you would understand where I'm coming from."
Rodgers's adversity, meanwhile, has mostly come on the football field. A first-round draft pick in 2005, he was stuck behind Brett Favre for three seasons. It doesn't happen often in the NFL, but he's somehow managed to follow a future Hall of Famer by writing his own appealing story. At the time, he sought the advice of Steve Young, who followed Joe Montana in San Francisco.
"Steve obviously had a very similar situation being a guy who followed a legend. He's been great," Rodgers said. "Steve has been a great guy to lean on and he's made time for me and [is] somebody who I really appreciate."
Though no one in Green Bay has forgotten Favre, Rodgers is creating his own legacy. As it did for Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in recent seasons, a Super Bowl win would seal his place among today's top quarterbacks.
"He's playing as an elite quarterback right now. There's no doubt about that. When he's on, he's as good as anybody," said Steve Mariucci, an analyst for the NFL Network. "When we start talking about elite quarterbacks, we're talking about that sort of performance consistently over time. And he's going through that process right now."
Rodgers is well aware of the challenge in front of him.
"The best players in this league are consistent week in and week out, and that's something I've tried to do," he said. "It's important to be consistent not only with your preparation each week, but with your personality and trying to be the same guy every day in practice that you are on the field on Sundays."
That's also a lesson Roethlisberger has been following. Aiming for a third ring, Roethlisberger has a chance this weekend to join an elite group. Terry Bradshaw and Montana each won four Super Bowls. Tom Brady and Troy Aikman won three. No other quarterback in league history has more than two. "That's unbelievable company," Roethlisberger said. "I don't put myself there. I think they're too good."
Forget history, though. When asked about the best quarterback on the field in Sunday's game, Roethlisberger didn't waste a second.
"Aaron Rodgers," he said.