a rob rossi column

Roethlisberger needs better from Steelers

Here's the thing about words: They matter.

They can be false, inauthentic or even exceedingly unbelievable. Even when authoring an unreality, the reality with words is they matter.

People fall for words.

More than actions, if we're being honest. (These days more than ever.)

Which is precisely why Ben Roethlisberger only talked about retiring Tuesday. To do anything other than talk would have been a waste of his time.

And the guess here is Roethlisberger feels as though enough of his time has been wasted.

The Steelers have won playoff games in only four of the past 10 seasons. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

This past Sunday marked the end of a sixth straight season without the Steelers playing for a Lombardi Trophy. Considering he won two of those in his first five seasons, a half-decade drought must have left Big Ben with a big thirst.

Usually, Roethlisberger would publicly cull criticism and absorb by himself any blows that come from all directions when a flagship franchise such as the Steelers isn't on the right side of results. But on Tuesday, he discussed calling it a career and directed criticism — albeit soft criticism — at Steelers' coaches and teammates.

Clearly, these are not usual times.

Not as clear -- because in sports, time moves fast enough for us to suspend belief -- is that time is running out on one of the greatest Steelers.

Roethlisberger, despite wins in only half of 10 postseason games since his last Super Bowl win (not to mention 11 interceptions to go with 10 touchdowns), is a Top 5 Steeler. He also will be 35 in about six weeks.

For a father of three, he's awfully young. For a championship quarterback, he's getting awfully old.

He is already too old to withstand many more losses like his latest. No type of physical battering (and Roethlisberger has taken more than his share) leaves a bruise that heals slower than losing a football game in late January.

You might have heard Roethlisberger say before that he'll never get over the Steelers' loss in Super Bowl XLV. Well, that loss came in February 2011 — and Roethlisberger wouldn't be a professional athlete if he didn't feel its sting forever.

The losses linger long past the wins. Ask anybody who ever competed for anything.

Roethlisberger can only make up for his lone Super Bowl defeat, and he can only accomplish that by winning the ring that would separate him from almost every other quarterback from the past half-century.

Ben Roethlisberger is one of three current starting quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl wins. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Tom Brady. Terry Bradshaw. Joe Montana. Troy Aikman.

They're it. They're the list of quarterbacks with three or more Super Seasons.

Only Brady produced one after his 35th birthday.

Brady being likely on his way to churning out another can't be encouraging to Roethlisberger, either.

After all, who was it that wrecked Roethlisberger's Sunday night? Who is it the Steelers can't beat?

It's Brady.

Oh, it's all about Brady for Roethlisberger.

Has to be, and Big Ben had to have Tom Terrific in mind when breaking form during his weekly radio show Tuesday.

Walking off the soggy turf at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night, Roethlisberger would have been right to assess that the gap between his Steelers and Brady's Patriots has never looked larger.

It seems big enough to swallow a lighthouse. It seems to be widening, too.

Rarely have the Patriots been more convincing in a win over the Steelers, who were only ever close in the AFC championship because of Roethlisberger.

His best receiver was the football equivalent of MySpace. His other receiving options were either dropping sure scores, failing to get open or not falling forward far enough. His do-it-all back was unavailable (again). His coaches were out-schemed, if not out-sensed.

Of course, had none of that happened, Roethlisberger still would have spent Tuesday looking toward the offseason. That's because his defense did its best impersonation of President Trump's former Republican challengers — never adjusting and thus never standing a chance of stopping the assault.

Mike Tomlin traded his "43" defensive background for a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

As losses went, the Steelers' on Sunday night bore a resemblance to the Democrats' defeat this past November.

It was staggering enough to create disillusionment among the most key players.

For the Steelers, there is only one main player.

It's Roethlisberger.

And Tuesday was not too soon to say something that would stagger the traditionally same-old Steelers organization. For all the ways Roethlisberger's talk of retirement can be taken, everybody within the Steelers should see it as a cry for help from their only irreplaceable asset.

Three playoff wins in six years is no "standard." Rather, it's a signal that some standard-issue parts of the Steeler Way should be at least re-evaluated.

Perhaps going back on a promise to extend Antonio Brown's contract would be wise given his demands, behavior and the team's other needs? Maybe transitioning on defense to a version of "43" from the "34 zone-blitz" would be better? Possibly the time has come to shake up coach Mike Tomlin's staff?

Something significant is needed for the Steelers. A few things, actually.

However many that number, the Steelers do not have time to waste.

Not because Roethlsiberger is talking about retiring.

It's only talk. Roethlisberger taking snaps for the Steelers is how next NFL season will begin.

But it's time for a different ending than one we've seen since routinely since the beginning of the Obama administration.

And if Roethlisberger speaking out about whatever Tuesday forces the changes needed for that ending to play out, the Steelers should consider themselves lucky.

They need to make his words matter.

Rob Rossi is our sports editor. Follow him on Twitter.

Roethlisberger still tossing bombs

Bye-bye Big Ben?

"Like I said, I'm going to take some time and evaluate this with my family... and do what's best for me and my family."
— Ben Roethlisberger, on possibly retiring from the NFL

Give this much to Ben Roethlisberger: he knows how to cause a stir.

Tuesday morning on his weekly radio show, Roethlisberger raised the possibility of his retirement from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I'm going to take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options," Roethlisberger said on KDKA-FM/93.7 The Fan.

"To consider health, and family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season, if there's going to be a next season."


What the hell is this "if" stuff? Can anybody find Mike Tomlin?

"Ben said it, so you do take it seriously. I'm not alarmed by it. That's football. Obviously, I'm hopeful he returns.
— Mike Tomlin, Steelers coach

(Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Aside from the "retirement" bombshell, Roethlisberger also had some choice words about the Steelers' loss in the AFC championship game.

On the New England Patriots

"They out-coached us, they out-played us, they out-executed us and the better team won the football game. It's frustrating, but that's the way it goes sometimes."

On some Steelers teammates

"Guys have to understand that the game can't be too big for guys, and I think it was for some guys."

Hear the full interview.

Wouldn't you like to get away?

Arrest made in 'Alarmgate' that woke up Steelers in Boston

Those lousy, cheating New England Patriots. Will they stop at nothing to win?

Actually, despite what suspicious minds may believe, the NFL's rules-bendingest franchise probably had nothing to do with a fire arm that sounded around 3 a.m. at the Pittsburgh Steelers' hotel on Sunday. A 25-year-old Boston native was arrested. Read details here from

Anyway, the details from our friends (yeah, we said friends) at FOX 25 in Boston:

And have a look at this letter posted by Steelers Digest czar Bob Labriola:


Patriots' game is a threat to Steelers Nation

It's personal.

And it's Pittsburghers who have made it that way. Not without reason, either.

Before we continue, give a quick glace at this story from the Tribune-Review's Ben Schmitt.

Kind of a clever trick by Ben, isn't it? By allowing a lot of Steelers fans to speak about their hatred for the New England Patriots, his story actually served to indict Pittsburghers on jealousy, pettiness and hypocrisy.

But Pittsburghers are human, so it would strain credulity to blame us for catering to the worst instincts of fandom. Given the world as we've come to know it, words critical of anybody's behavior surely should fall flat.

And, for what it's worth, Pittsburghers probably top a short list of fans who could fairly be considered overrated and under-appreciated. Outsiders probably give us too much credit for the same things that leave somebody like me rolling my eyes.

After all, aren't there fine lines between provincial and parochial, passion and perversion, vicariousness and fantasticalness? In good times, don't fans in all cities willfully conflate one for the other?


Yes, if you're wondering

And if you don't believe the big difference between Pittsburgh's fans of the Steelers and Atlanta's fans of the Falcons is that one of those groups has been able to count on consistent good times, then you probably have always misunderstood the biggest reason the Steelers are so big in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers almost always provide Pittsburghers reasons to brag.

Their six Super Bowl titles? Tops.

Their 36 playoff victories? Most.

Their 29 postseason berths, 22 division titles and 478 regular-season wins? Best.

Each of those bragging points comes with the caveat of being a record only for the post-merger era of the NFL.

But you know what? The NFL didn't become the behemoth it is now until after its merger with the AFL.

It is a behemoth, though. And (for the most part) since the NFL's rise to rule in Sporting America, only fans of one organization could factually point to theirs being the best.

In Pittsburgh, we are from the town with the great football team.

That isn't just a line from some corny song. That has become part of our identity...

For better or worse

The better has been obvious these past couple of weeks. The bright yellow that we consider "gold" has practically cast 24-hour light o our city because so many Pittsburghers are wearing something Steelers-related. Bundled-up strangers haven't been as standoffish at bus stops. Friends' Facebook posts haven't been as divisive. Fewer horns have been blasted during traffic jams on our bridges.

Heck, the last couple of weeks, I've noticed more folks at Sunday mass. (So has the priest, at least that is how I've taken his sly "prayer for our Steelers to do their best" before calling for a final amen.)

Our weather may be unpredictable to the point of absurdity. Our streets may resemble the moon what with all the pot holes. Our most listened-to radio stations may be playing songs that date to the NFL merger.

Still, good luck finding a more enjoyable spot on this planet than Pittsburgh in a January when the Steelers have gone on a playoff run.

Also, good luck getting Pittsburghers to get over what might be coming Sunday night...

(Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

A loss by the Steelers

Making matters worse, that loss would come against the one entity that dares challenge the NFL supremacy of Pittsburgh's Steelers. That loss could again come in the game before the American institution that Pittsburghers have come to consider a birthright.

That would be the Super Bowl.

And by continuously playing in it, and often winning it, the New England Patriots have struck for Pittsburghers a nerve that radiates pain to our hearts.

(Getty Images)

After all, New England isn't even a town. The town most associated with it is Boston, and it's not like Bostonians need to be from the town with the great football team.

Bostonians already have too much.

Their have America's greatest professional rivalry. They have the country's most famous bar. They have the nation's largest collection of historical figures. They have Harvard University's Quad!

(Getty Images)

Sure, Pittsburghers can claim the NHL's Commonwealth Cold War, Casey's Draft House, the Heinz Family and Carnegie Mellon University. All of which are great, by the way.

But, at least for going on 50 years, Pittsburgh has been a football town.

Some of the best football players have done their deeds here. Some left here to do those deeds elsewhere (including for the Patriots). And when it comes to the most important position in football, if not the most glorified post in American pop culture, Pittsburgh has been a most charitable spot.

We know where America is because of its presidents with ties to the Boston area. We cannot say where America would be without the quarterbacks who grew up in and around Pittsburgh.

So, yeah, it sucks for Pittsburghers

(Getty Images)

It sucks that a quarterback who plays home games near Boston is likely going to be remembered as the best of the bombs-away bunch. It sucks even more that his coach is also ticketed for all-time stature.

Let's at least be honest, my fellow Pittsburghers. The hatred for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick has less to do with their fashion choices and everything to do with their successes on the football field.

They have teamed for four Super Bowl wins, six AFC championships and 14 division titles. They have taken in that haul all during this millennium. Theirs is viewed by the judging class as the greatest run in the modern era of professional football.

There are reasons for such a view being held. They range from Brady and Belichick having made their run during the NFL's free-agent/salary-cap era to our increasing penchant for quantifying accomplishments as they're happening.

However, facts are facts. And the fact is that Brady and Belichick's Patriots are about to participate in an 11th AFC championship game.

The Steelers will be in only their sixth over that span.

Six is a lot

Actually, six AFC championship games was the number that Chuck Noll's Super Steelers played in during the 1970s.

Those Steelers spoiled Pittsburghers. So have the Steelers of the past 16 years.


It's the lineage of success from one glorious era to another merely great one that has provided generations of Pittsburghers ample opportunities to confuse being from the town with the great football team with being part of the great football team.

We're not playing Sunday night. Just feels that way because it feels as though our skin is in the game.

That skin keeps getting pierced by the Patriots. And a decade-and-a-half is a long time for a wound to remain open.

Oh, it's open, all right.

Because we couldn't possibly be from the town with the great football team when our Steelers have never ended the season of the Brady/Belichick Patriots. Because our Steelers' success in the 1970s cannot be held on highest if the Brady/Belichick Patriots have won as many, played in more, and continue to chase Super Bowls.

Because of Brady. Because of Belichick. Because of those two men, everything we have grown up believing has been challenged — and deep down, we as Pittsburghers know a lot of those beliefs cannot be supported by facts.

(Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)

We have been betrayed.

Is there any worse feeling? Does any act contribute more to blind hatred?

Need anybody doubt the hatred that exist for the New England Patriots in Pittsburgh?

We're not from the town with the great football team anymore.

But on Sunday night we can be again.

Rob Rossi is our sports editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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all's fair in love and locker rooms

They swear in sports; who knew?

In a former life, we knew a thoughtful, intelligent man who wouldn't mince words when it came to his intentions for an NHL opponent of his Pittsburgh Penguins.

"Let's grind those bitches down."
— Dan Bylsma, former Penguins coach

Locker-room talk, basically. And it's heard in every sport.

Might not make it right. But since when does what passes for "right" have anything to do with the wide world of sports? That world, though, does not differ from Everyday Land in one specific way.

Technology is trampling out the last vestiges of privacy. That is as true for professional athletes as it is those amongst us who live vicariously through them. And we're guessing it won't be long before athletes are discouraged, if not disallowed, from bringing their magic machines into the locker rooms they claim to not want violated by outside folks.

(Given those pesky Russians, we might recommend going back to land lines. In fact, the New England Patriots probably already have.)

When it comes to spying, Bill Belichick knows the U.S. is still No. 1.

We're guessing the Patriots don't care what Mike Tomlin thinks about them. We're also pretty confident Tomlin doesn't think their "assholes" — though, if he did, he wouldn't be alone.

Here's what some of his players had to say Monday about the names Tomlin called the after the Steelers' win at Kansas City.

And, this, from Darth Hoodie himself:

Is this all much ado about nothing? Probably.

Then again, making much ado about nothing is par for the course when the Super Bowl chase is down to four NFL teams. Whatever is said between now and when those teams are trimmed to two come Sunday night, none of it will likely impact the outcome of the AFC and NFC championship games.

Anyway, believe what you want.

Might be worth remembering that not many people believed at least two of these teams would still be playing in the penultimate round of the Super tourney. And that football plays, not words from football coaches, win championships.

the flip side

A Rob Rossi column

America's team, thine name is Chiefs

Big Ben is 34.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won 35 playoff games.

Stop. Take a beat. Let those two facts sink into what Myron called the old cranium.

If you're a card-carrying member of the Steelers Nation and you aren't feeling spoiled rotten ... well, that definitely means you're a diehard.

The diehards among Steelers fans are those most spoiled. Also, the most insufferable.

What, "Stairway to Heaven" isn't a bit ... much? (Tribune-Review)

Don't take that as an insult, yinz. Fans of other NFL teams should be so lucky to be insufferable.

Patriots fans are pretentious.

Packers fans are patronizing.

Cowboys fans are pompous.

Fans of those teams could claim theirs is "America's Team." And Cowboys fans actually do.

But only one fan base can claim their team turned down the moniker. And ever since hearing one of their own tell this story one day on TV, Steelers fans had not allowed a day to pass without re-posting this video on Facebook.


Though, better to be insufferable than inconsequential.

And inconsequential is the way of life for fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. They'll probably be reminded of that Sunday afternoon night, too. The good people of Kansas City haven't seen their NFL team win at home in the playoffs since the first year of Bill Clinton's presidency. The Chiefs beat the Steelers (coincidence or irony?) on Jan. 8, 1994.

It's been a long time since a good football time was had in Kansas City. In fact, when it happened last, the Chiefs' version of "Renegade" was still generally thought to be the Rolling Stones' newer stuff.

OK, we're getting off on a tangent. The point (by now) is obvious. However, just for fun, let's consider the number of NFL playoff games won by home teams dating to the last great day for playoff football in Kansas City.


A baker's dozen of those victories happened in Pittsburgh. (And, if anybody was wondering — yes, focusing on the six postseason games lost at home by the Steelers since the Chiefs last won a playoff game in Kansas City is absolutely why usually hospitable Kansas Citians may soon deem insufferable invading members of Football America's Awesome Traveling Circus.)

Chiefs fans have had it hard, man.

The Chiefs are 0-3 when playing in Kansas City as the AFC's No. 1 or 2 seed.

The Chiefs have lost their opening playoff game 11 times dating to the AFL-NFL merger.

The Chiefs are coached by Andy Reid, a loser of five home playoff games with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Fry, Eagles, fry?

Indeed, counting the playoffs, Reid's teams are 19-2 after bye weeks. But 16 of those wins occurred in the regular season.

By the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, we should all be well beyond betting on anything based upon regular-season results. That also counts for the Steelers' blowout of the Chiefs in Pittsburgh this past October.

Bad things, man. Baaaaad. Things. (Chaz Palla |Tribune-Review)

Truth is, neither Reid's remarkable record after a bye nor his postseason penchant for jobbing in front of the locals will mean anything on Sunday afternoon. Nor, likely, will Roethlisberger's 4-1 mark in Round 2 of the playoffs.

And, honestly, this was never meant to be a "football" column. Rather, we wanted it out there that this weekend, the Chief should be considered "America's Team."

After all, where more than in Kansas City does America's Game matter so much despite so little success witnessed by the fans?

In Cleveland, they've had only a "cup of coffee" in the big time since the Browns came back.

Too easy? Well, sure.

But it's not as if a Pittsburgh columnist can count on living long enough to write about why America should be backing the Browns in a second-round playoff game.



Rob Rossi is our sports editor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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