One thing in which I am confident is that I don’t want to know how Ben Roethlisberger’s most recent remark is going to be interpreted, particularly in the national media. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback yesterday spoke to the media and said, “I feel like I love football again”, a statement that implies that there was a time he did not.
Rather than worry about the various permutations of criticism that will inevitably ensue from a soundbite that doesn’t paint a full picture of the spirit of his remarks, let’s focus instead on what he said as a follow-up.
“I always love doing it, but I think loving it but having fun doing it, I think a lot of things can contribute to it”, Gerry Dulac quoted the 16th-year veteran as saying, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “You get a rejuvenated feel at this point in your career. You can either just go through the motions or you get it going. I feel like I got it going”.
Personally, I think part of the origin of his comment is simply from how the mind works. This isn’t the first time in the past couple of years he has made remarks about feeling rejuvenated about playing football, often tied to the opportunity to work with some young teammates like JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose energy can be infectious.
Still, with that said, Dulac writes that a number of Roethlisberger’s teammates are also seeing a difference in him, though in fairness, outside of the offensive linemen, this is a group of players who have only been with him for a few years at most, so they don’t have a lot to compare to.
“Just his whole approach and demeanor is completely different this year”, Vance McDonald, who is in his second full season of working with Roethlisberger, observed. “I think he’s on fire”. Yet at the same time, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva suggested that the quarterback’s approach in practice over the year has been “contagious”.
“You don’t know if you should be competitive all the time and when you play with Ben, you realize you have to be competitive all the time”, he said.
The defining characteristic of Roethlisberger’s career has been his competitive drive. “I don’t know that it will ever leave me”, the 37-year-old said. “That’s just something that drives me. I can go out there and act like, ‘okay, guys, let’s just try to learn some things’. But once I get going, then the juices get flowing and you want to win”.
We saw plenty of indications of that remaining active last season, even if they missed the playoffs. That included a few game-winning drives, plus others that were squandered by the defense, or came up just short (even if it was his fault, like in Denver).
Perhaps Roethlisberger is enjoying himself a bit more out there on the field this year, and perhaps it is visible to his teammates. But his drive to win at all costs has never deviated since he probably first picked up a football.