By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — If there was any question about Ben Roethlisberger’s toughness, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback should have erased that doubt after his performance against the Baltimore Ravens.
Roethlisberger already was slated to play against the AFC North’s top team Sunday night despite a sore right foot that had to be fitted for a shoe two sizes larger than normal to provide protection, but during the first series that injury became moot when Haloti Ngata took a swipe at his head, got his hand over the facemask and broke his nose.
That injury required a corrective procedure by the team’s plastic surgery, Dr. Leo McCafferty, Monday. But Roethlisberger was back for Steelers practice Wednesday afternoon wearing a heavy bandage on his nose and protective visor on his helmet, looking a lot like he could audition for a boxing movie.
“I know, but Mario Lemieux told me I finally looked like a hockey player,” Roethlisberger said, noting that he had never broken his nose before, didn’t immediately know it was broken and never had to wear a face shield before.
“I saw where the early forecast (for Sunday) was rain and snow, so I am sure it’s going to be fun,” Roethlisberger said. “I knew it was bleeding right away, but I didn’t know it was broken until I saw everybody’s expression on the sideline. I won’t know what it’ll look like until I take the tape off, and I’m not supposed to take it off for a week. So, we’ll see.”
Roethlisberger noted that breathing was more of an issue prior to him removing all the packing tape in his nose, but there were problems in that area, along with others, throughout the game at Baltimore.
“Breathing, vision, blood running down my mouth and throat and face the whole game, just little things like that,” Roethilsberger said. “I just asked (the referee) if he saw the blood. I’m not one who cusses at the refs or anything, so I just asked him if he thought (Ngata) went for my head. His response was that he was just trying to tackle me. I let it go at that.”
These latest injuries are just a couple in a lengthy laundry list of issues Roethlisberger has suffered during his seven NFL seasons with the Steelers. In his rookie year in 2004, he injured his thumb and also said he had broken toes after the playoff loss to the Patriots. He suffered a knee injury against San Diego in 2005 and missed three games later that season.
In 2006, he was coming off the car accident and subsequent surgery, had an appendectomy right before the season and missed the opener, suffered a concussion at Atlanta and should have missed the Oakland game. Instead, he played and threw interceptions, two returned for a touchdown and generally had a miserable season. The next season was relatively injury free.
In 2008, however, Roethlisberger banged up his throwing shoulder against Houston in Week 1 and had to be carted off later in the season in Cleveland after suffering a concussion. Prior to the Super Bowl, he told reporters that he also had broken ribs earlier that season. And last year, he had a concussion during a loss at Kansas City.
So, Roethlisberger certainly has had his share of injuries, but he appears to play better when he’s battling back from those.
“I guess I’m soft or something, (but) I just want to play the game,” Roethlisberger said. “There wasn’t even a question if I was going back in. Just like at practice, I asked the trainers if there is any chance of this getting worse if I practiced today, and they said no.
“So, I’m going to practice and continue to try to win championships here. … I didn’t have any setbacks (with the foot), so that’s a really good thing. I still wear the boot a little bit for protective reasons, but it feels a lot better than it did the past couple of weeks.”
Roethlisberger added that he was going to keep fighting through injuries in order to be out there for his teammates. He wasn’t limited at all in practice Wednesday, which was expected, as the Steelers worked out indoors. His performance was nothing new for veterans like Steelers wideout Hines Ward.
“Ben does whatever he can to go out there and win ball games, and that’s what he’s always done,” Ward said. “But we expect that type of game from him, (and) he doesn’t have to prove anything to us. We know him, but you guys and other people outside this locker room might question his toughness.
“We, his players and teammates, we know what players put their bodies through and what they go through week in and week out. We know he had a bum foot and broke his nose early in the game, and everybody kept teasing him about his nose. But he stayed in the game and found a way to win the game, so he kept fighting. … We know what Ben brings to the table, and when he’s on the football field it gives us a great chance to win ball games.”
While Ward and other veterans are all too familiar with Roethlisberger’s heroics, the younger Steelers were a little more astonished, even shocked, by it. Even center Maurkice Pouncey, who played alongside Tim Tebow at Florida, was amazed by his new quarterback’s tough side.
“I’m taking Ben,” Pouncey said. “I’m taking the guy I’m with now. They’re both tough, but I’m here now, and I’m all about Ben Roethlisberger. He’s one tough guy, and I’m glad he’s our quarterback. It’s an honor to have a guy that we know is going to go into battle with us no matter what happens.
“Ben came back in that game, and we couldn’t believe what he went through. I know it had to be excruciating pain, but for him to come back in there and still make all the plays that he did was amazing. So, we just love to have Ben Roethlisberger on our team.”
Second-year player David Johnson, who was pressed into a primary role when starting tight end Heath Miller received a concussion, also was impressed.
“He’s the toughest quarterback I’ve ever seen,” Johnson said. “Hats off to him for just finishing that game. But he did more than that. He made some plays, a lot of big plays, to help us win the game. I couldn’t believe he did all that.
“I was really shocked, because at no time did he show that he was hurt or that he was going to come out of the game. And I really appreciate that, seeing our quarterback tough it out and play hard like that. It makes you want to keep playing no matter what. You know you have to stay out there with him.”
Notes: Steelers OT Flozell Adams (ankle), TE Heath Miller (concussion), safety Troy Polamalu (ankle), DE Aaron Smith (triceps) and WR Hines Ward (day off) did not practice Wednesday. … RB Isaac Redman (ankle) was limited.