He was the small town kid who was an athletic freak of nature. He was the guy who pointed to his mother in the heavens after each score. He was the leader who made true on a prophetic Super Bowl promise to one of the most beloved players in Pittsburgh Steelers history.
Now he's the punching bag of Eminem and Letterman. His once best-selling jersey couldn't have been given away just a few short months ago.
Ben Roethlisberger has gone from being the face of the most prestigious franchise in football to the villain no one is proud to support. Except for me. I am proud to have Ben Roethlisberger as my team's quarterback.
Let the insults and aghast looks get out of your system and hear me out. Ben is a living model to a lesson every person has to learn in life: Humility leads to success. Ego will sink more $100 million ships than any Navy missile.
Ben had defied the odds and won two Super Bowls before his 27th birthday. He had escaped death when he crashed his motorcycle and made it to the hospital when his appendix suddenly burst.
He could walk into any bar in Pittsburgh and have all the booze and women he wanted. He was living the life of an American sports star and was succeeding. Until an incident in Lake Tahoe and Milledgeville, GA ended this.
"Big Ben" had simply allowed the traits that make him a franchise quarterback—extreme confidence and reckless abandon—to spill off from the football field and into his everyday personality.
Although Ben was never formally charged, Ben's entourage could not protect him from a six (later reduced to four) game suspension from Warden Goodell.
For others in society, a second chance may not have come so quickly, if ever. For Ben, after talking with Merrill Hodge, Tony Dungy and Dan Rooney, he was rewarded with what is perhaps his last chance.
Watching him, I don't see a changed man on the field. I see the same Ben who has won games the last seven seasons. After the final whistle is when I see a young man who has not changed, but simply matured.
When he knelt down and hid his face after defeating the Jets on Sunday, some immediately saw this as manufactured for the cameras. Call me an optimist, but I saw a humbled man. We can all learn it in some slap-across-the-face manner. It usually doesn't involve the law, but for some, that's what's necessary.
Why am I proud of Ben? He has learned what it means to wear the black and gold: humility and pride in oneself.