Bill Cowher joined Ben Roethlisberger as a special guest on Roethlisberger’s Footbahlin podcast Monday evening. Most of the episode was filled with memories and laughs about their time together, one Hall of Famer sitting down with a future one, but the mood got somber for one moment. Roethlisberger asked Cowher about Roethlisberger’s 2006 motorcycle that nearly killed him and Cowher’s recollection of those moments of what he told him when he saw Roethlisberger in the ICU.
“I think I just said, ‘You’re gonna be okay. We’re gonna take care of you.’ And then I remember walking away saying, ‘All right, I’m gonna yell at him,” Cowher told the show, that last sentence ending with a laugh.
Four months after winning Super Bowl XL and bringing home “one for the thumb” to Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger was involved in a serious motorcycle accident in Pittsburgh, made all the worse by his decision not to wear a helmet. An ESPN article written at the time served as a reminder of how life-threatening Roethlisberger’s injuries were.
“Roethlisberger remained in serious but stable condition after seven hours of surgery that ended at approximately 9 p.m. ET, according to Dr. Daniel Pituch, chief of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Mercy Hospital.
“He suffered multiple facial fractures,” Pituch said at a news conference. “All of the fractures were successfully repaired. His brain, spine, chest and abdomen appear to be without serious injury. And there are no other confirmed injuries at this time.”
The doctors declined to release further information at the family’s request.
ESPN.com’s John Clayton has confirmed that Roethlisberger also suffered a 9-inch laceration to the back of his head, has lost or chipped a number of teeth and has minor injuries to his knees from hitting the pavement.”
Cowher went on to say he was worried about Roethlisberger’s motorcycle hobby after being drafted and that he told Roethlisberger he should always wear a helmet while he rode — advice that clearly wasn’t always listened to. Roethlisberger remembers that he was “unrecognizable” during that first conversation with Cowher due to the extreme nature of his injuries.
Roethlisberger recovered throughout the rest of the offseason and was gearing up to start the season opener when he required an emergency appendectomy, missing Week One against the Miami Dolphins. Pittsburgh still won the game 28-17 and Roethlisberger returned to the starting lineup the following week, though Cowher noted Roethlisberger wasn’t totally himself in his first few games back.
“I remember that year, you kept [turning] back in your first few games. I go Ben, ‘You’re flinching…you’re kind of turning away.’ We’d come in on Mondays. I said, ‘Watch the tape.’ And you go, ‘Well, you’d flinch too if you’re in a motorcycle accident.’ I go, ‘I know, I know, but I just wanna point out to you. You’re okay. But get back to being who you are. You’re gonna be okay. We’re not gonna put you out there if there’s any risk of anything happening to you.'”
Roethlisberger had an ugly 2006 season, ending it with more interceptions than touchdowns as Pittsburgh finished the year 8-8. That would be Cowher’s final season, retiring after it and never returning to coaching afterwards despite ample opportunities to do so.
Right after the accident, Cowher believed it could serve as a wake-up call to Roethlisberger’s future.
“I remember just telling your dad, this might be the best thing to ever happen to him,” Cowher said.
Roethlisberger would eventually change on and off the field. Two years later, he won his second Super Bowl and went on to have a Hall of Fame career. As Cowher spoke about the accident, Roethlisberger said his main worry, besides recovering, was the feeling that he let Cowher down.
You can check out the rest of the conversation and the lighter-hearted topics the podcast touches on below.