Ben Roethlisberger is coming back to the Steelers on Sunday, and while the Jeff Pearlmans of the world may not like it, I can guarantee you that Ben will get a very warm and kind reception from his hometown fans, the same group of fans that were supposedly ready to run him out of town just a few months ago (I never believed that, contrary to what Peter King may have thought).
Why will Ben get cheered on Sunday? There are five good reasons:
1. He was already greeted warmly by the home crowd during the preseason. Back when the Steelers played Detroit at Heinz Field in the preseason, Big Ben didn’t take a snap, but was still cheered when he ran out onto the field during pregame warm-ups. He was also cheered during training camp in Latrobe, PA. And he played two series at Heinz Field against Carolina in the preseason, and there was barely any reaction at all. Ben isn’t going into this thing cold. There’s already been some semblance of closure on this matter.
2. He did what was asked of him. I’m not even sure he’s been alive since he got suspended a while back. Roethlisberger has given exactly one interview since that time, a sitdown with Merril Hoge in which he expressed regret for how he acted and generally gave the public the appearance of genuine contrition they always seem to demand after a celebrity messes up. Sunday would be different if Big Ben had treated this whole matter with arrogance and indifference. But he didn’t. He appears to be remorseful. Almost getting traded to Oakland will do that to you.
3. He’s really good. Fans will forgive any football player so long as he’s awesome at what he does. And they’re even more forgiving when that player’s excellence helps alleviate a glaring weakness on the team. Big Ben arrives with the Steelers ranked dead last in passing. They’re the only team in football not to have more than 100 pass attempts. Ben could eclipse that amount in the next two games alone. He passed for six TD’s and nearly a thousand yards in his final three games last season. You could punch a baby kangaroo and fans would still love you with those numbers.
4. He wasn’t actually found guilty of anything. That night in Georgia will always remain a drunken encounter that will straddle the line between what some people perceive as just drunken horniness, and what others perceive as something more menacing. But Ben was never charged, and strongly reiterated to Hoge that he has never harmed a woman. This isn’t like Mike Vick, where a crime was clearly perpetrated.
5. He never sent cell phone picture of his privates to anyone. Not yet, at least. You think Big Ben sent Brett Favre a fruit basket this week?