Sunday, April 25, 2004

Gold and black fits RedHawk

Quarterback had idea Steelers would nab him

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEW YORK - Ben Roethlisberger figures to look good in the gold and black of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Heck, he already looked good in gold and black Saturday morning, and that was before his name was called as the No. 11 pick overall at the NFL Draft at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

Ben Roethlisberger figures to look good in the gold and black of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
(AP photo)
Maybe, just maybe, the former Miami University superstar quarterback had an inkling. He was wearing a black suit with gray pinstripes and gold tie with black criss-cross pattern.

"No one knew I was going there - I didn't let on to you guys (the media) - but I knew," said Roethlisberger, his eyes twinkling and a grin forming on his face. "I thought I looked good in black and gold."

Roethlisberger is a native of Findlay, only a four-hour drive from Pittsburgh. His decision to come out early for the NFL Draft - he was only a junior -may have landed with the perfect team for him: He can be groomed for the starting position behind started Tommy Maddox (a free agent after this season); the Steelers have a good running attack (Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis), top-flight receivers (Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward) and an offensive line that automatically gets better when Marvel Smith and Alan Faneca get healthy.

"Everything is set up to really be successful there," Roethlisberger said.

Leigh Steinberg, Roethlisberger's agent who had correctly predicted late last week that Ben appeared headed for Pittsburgh, said the only thing that gave him pause Saturday occurred just before North Carolina State QB Philip Rivers was picked by the Giants fourth overall. Not until then was it clear that the Giants were not going to pick Roethlisberger.

"There was contact between the Giants and (Miami coach) Terry Hoeppner last week, and the Giants said, 'We're really focused on Ben.' So, for a half hour there before New York picked Rivers, I thought there might be that chance of Ben going to New York because (Robert) Gallery had gone to Oakland at No. 2...But after the trade, I couldn't logically see a team until Pittsburgh at No. 11 that was going to take him...Other than that, I had prepared Ben for this a number of weeks ago."

Roethlisberger was the third quarterback chosen after Manning and Rivers.

Despite what Steinberg had told him, Roethlisberger didn't know for sure where he was going - one never knows about these draft-day scenarios - but an hour into it he was feeling especially good about his choice of suit and tie color.

And that is when everybody close to Roethlisberger got the same feeling: he was going to be a Steeler. Heck, at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Roethlisberger even looks like a steel-driving man.

"After Cleveland traded up at No. 6 to get (tight end Kellen) Winslow (Jr.), my anxiety and hopes started to raise a little bit (about becoming a Steeler)," Roethlisberger said.

Once Roethlisberger is able to take over the reigns from Maddox, there figures to be a lengthy caravan from Findlay for Steeler home games.

"It's nice," Roethlisberger said. "It will be easy for my family and friends to get to. It's a great city with a storied tradition (of NFL football). You can't ask for a better place to play football."

He said "a lot of my Cincinnati friends said if I went to Pittsburgh, they would root for me but not for the Steelers."

The Steelers play in Cincinnati once a year.

"I guess they'll be rooting for me then, but not my team," said Roethlisberger, who noted he could live with that.

He knows about Pittsburgh, because it's the only NFL team he visited before the draft. He especially liked Steelers head coach Bill Cowher.

"He reminds me of Coach Hep (Miami coach Terry Hoeppner)," Roethlisberger said. "You see an intimidating guy who is very intense and loves football and just wants to win. Everything I've heard about Coach Cowher, once you get to know him, is true. He loosens up and he's definitely a players' coach."

Ben's father, Ken, himself a quarterback at Georgia Tech before getting injured, liked the fit, too.

"Ben really liked the staff in his visit there," Ken said. "I asked him just before (Saturday's draft), 'Tell me about your visit to Pittsburgh, and he said, 'I liked it.'...We're just tickled by it all."


Ben's sister, Carlee, herself a top freshman basketball and volleyball player at her brother's former school, Findlay High, served as family videographer of draft day and was scarfing up some chow and mingling with the glitterati in the ESPN-NFL party room...

Besides attending the New York Knicks-New Jersey Nets playoff game Thursday night, Ben attended the Boston Red Sox- New York Yankee game Friday night and also visited Ground Zero. Roethlisberger renewed acquaintances with Iowa offensive lineman Robert Gallery, who was the No. 2 overall pick by the Oakland Raiders. ("It's something about Ben and O-linemen," said Ben's mother, Brenda)...

During his last visit home to Findlay, Ben noticed that his old hometown had just gotten a little cozier. It wasn't quite as easy to move around, given the way ESPN was making him a center of attention and even the people of Findlay were picking up on it. Some of them even came out to the golf course to watch him play...

Roethlisberger wasn't at all nonplussed by seeing North Carolina State Philip Rivers go before him and then watching the trade between the New York Giants and San Diego Chargers: "It was something that shows how much of a game this is and non one knows what's going on in the draft. So many questions were going on, and obviously both teams got what they wanted"...

Coach Hoeppner was delighted by the way the entire weekend went. "I talked to (former Giants quarterback) Phil Simms, and he commented that 'You can't buy exposure like this for your program.'" Hoeppner called it "an incredible day for Miami University and Miami football. I'm really happy for Ben and his family, and I'm selfishly happy because of the proximity of Pittsburgh."...

Hoeppner put the day into perspective. "It would be easy to get caught up in the ego of trying to go as high as possible, but five minutes of fame on draft day is no exchange for a full career in the NFL...The city of Pittsburgh just got better today. It's a great marriage..."

Added Steinberg: "The ability of not having to play immediately is wonderful in the development of a quarterback. Ben will disagree, and any young quarterback would disagree, because they want to play, but if you look at Steve McNair or any quarterback who's had that year of preparation time, you can see that it can really enhance the longevity and quality of a quarterback's career."

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