A Super Bowl title was not necessarily the only thing on the line last night when the Pittsburgh Steelers faced off against the Green Bay Packers. The legend of two young quarterbacks' NFL careers, or lack there of, was also at stake between the up and coming Aaron Rodgers and the controversial Ben Roethlisberger.
The general consensus going into the evening was that Roethlisberger "needed" a Super Bowl victory more than Rodgers. To the people who've seen Roethlisberger win two championships prior, as well as make one of the most clutch throws in NFL history to beat the Arizona Cardinals, it might have been hard to imagine another Super Bowl was going to do anything to help Roethlisberger's perception.
"Big Ben" has been in some serious heat ever since allegations that he sexually assaulted a young girl at a bar in Milledgeville, GA came to light.
On the other hand, the seemingly innocent Aaron Rodgers has been making quite a name for himself in a short amount of time. He had been arguably the most fundamentally impressive quarterback in 2010 (and yes, my statement does include Mr. Tom Brady). Packers fans' focus has been on Rodgers officially hosing off the legend of Brett Favre, who found more than one way to embarrass himself and tarnish his reputation.
However, the rest of the nation was likely more intrigued last night by the performance of the Steelers quarterback. A solid victory and third Super Bowl championship would mean bringing the Steelers back to their dominating prominence that made them a household favorite in the 1970s. A loss for Big Ben would mean another blemish to put on his downward spiraling Hall of Fame resume.
So, with the Steelers losing 31-25 last night, thanks in part to two interceptions thrown by Roethlisberger, is there anyway the big quarterback actually helped his image?
I might even be surprising myself by saying this: yes.
Last week, I wrote an article about professional athletes and how they handle dishonorable conduct, focusing mainly on the rise and fall of Michael Vick. Some commit stupid mistakes over and over, never showing change. But some kind of get that wake up call. Some turn things around, conduct themselves correctly every time they walk into a press conference and their shame slowly runs off their shoulder. In a few years, we forgive them.
Michael Vick and Ray Lewis are prime examples.
They've overcome serious trials, literally, to not only resurrect their careers, but to conduct themselves correctly. Ray Lewis has become one of the more respected professional athletes.
Even within the players who were on the field last night, there are more stories. For instance, a story came out during Super Bowl week about Packers receiver Donald Driver and his change in life, from a kid selling drugs on the street to one of the harder working players at a position full of outlandish personalities.
It's possible to redeem.
If we are going to talk about Roethlisberger's "image," as sports fans, what are we really referring to? Are we referring to his dignity, or do we care that much about the dignity of a person we don't share an interpersonal relationship with? The truth is, despite the inspiring stories mentioned above, all we really care about is whether or not Roethlisberger helped his Hall of Fame chances last night.
Throwing two interceptions and eventually losing the game surely doesn't seem like the Hall of Fame formula, even for someone who hasn't had nationally publicized legal issues. But there's a bigger picture here, especially for all of the upset Steelers fans out there.
Is it not pretty evident that the Steelers team is with their star quarterback? The comeback put on display last night showed some pretty impressive cohesiveness, if you will, between the Steelers quarterback and the rest of the team. Heck, when a guy can't stand on his knee and proceeds to somehow hobble for a fifteen yard run, I have grown respect for him. When a guy finishes a game after having his nose smashed into three individual pieces, I have respect for him.
Whether Roethlisber has a past of misconduct or not, he's been a warrior on the field this year. Even in last night's loss, the overlying theme of the night quickly was turning into the battle between two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. And the factor that goes into this all is the fact Roethlisberger put all of the blame of the loss on himself during post game interviews. He seemed pretty dejected.
So, how has he ultimately helped his image? If there is a next season (if not, the next time the NFL comes around), Roethlisberger is going to have the opportunity to play a sixteen game schedule, or eighteen game, or whatever. And, as the "losers" of the Super Bowl, they're going to have a fresh blue collar attitude.
If Big Ben can come back next year and quietly and correctly lead the Steelers franchise to a fourth Super Bowl appearance since 2005, things will start to look like the 1970s again. And if leading a 1970s-esque Steelers franchise to consistent championships isn't the formula for a Hall of Fame shoo in, I'm not sure what is.