There’s a saying that truth is often stranger than fiction. The story of former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s fine for a celebration during the 2005 season against the Denver Broncos just may be one of those examples.
Pittsburgh was back in the AFC Championship Game for a second year in a row, having lost to the New England Patriots in 2004. Already up 17-3 in the second quarter Roethlisberger gave the Steelers a 21-point lead with seconds left to spare in the first half.
“That’s the game [where] I got fined, for doing the six-shooter. I threw a touchdown to Hines [Ward], a had a little scramble and I threw to Hines in the back of the end zone. I was doing this on the sideline”, he recalled on the latest episode of his Footbahlin podcast.
You can see the play below, in one of those rare instances in which a player or coach actually accurately recalls the details to the letter. Roethlisberger indeed scrambled before releasing the ball, finding Ward in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. And he did go over to the sideline and let loose, in the league’s opinion, a little more than he realized.
“Do you know what my letter was for, though? Threatening the other team with a deadly weapon”, he told his guest, former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, who was on the sideline for that game, of course. “No joke. I swear. Threatening the other team with a deadly weapon. Mr. Rooney helped me with that one”.
Now, we don’t know if Roethlisberger is accurately accounting what his fine letter says, but if he is, I think we can agree that there’s a level of absurdity in labeling finger pistols a deadly weapon. And the replay clearly shows that he certainly was not threatening anybody. He was on his own sideline celebrating with his teammates, the Broncos the furthest thing from his mind.
In actual fact, he was about to head into the locker room at that point, with just seven seconds left in the first half, so if anything he was thinking about getting a break. And he was thinking about the fact that the Steelers were going to realize the opportunity that evaded them a year ago, taking another step closer to the Super Bowl.
Which they went on to win, of course, defeating the Seattle Seahawks two weeks later to claim the organization’s first Super Bowl in a quarter of a century. I’m sure that’s one fine the late Dan Rooney was more than happy to “help” with.
It wouldn’t be the last time a Steeler was fined for simulating a weapon in celebration on the field, of course. Thirteen players were fined a total of $140,000 in December for a group celebration last last season. Brett Keisel was once penalized for simulating a bow and arrow after a sack, but he was not fined for it. The penalty, however, was not for the archery exhibition itself.