TAMPA — Winning his first Super Bowl was great. The handshakes, the hugs, the high fives. But for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the memory has always been more about confession than confetti.
He admits his play was awful that day three years ago; he completed 9-of-21 passes for 123 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
So the Super Bowl experience for Big Ben, like so many of his wayward passes, was incomplete.
"He's on a mission," receiver Hines Ward said of Roethlisberger on Monday upon arriving for Super Bowl XLIII. "He really wants to go out there and redeem himself. We won the Super Bowl as a team, but him personally, he didn't particularly play like he wanted to play."
Roethlisberger, whose passer rating of 22.6 was the lowest in Super Bowl history by a winning quarterback, admits his nerves never went away during the Steelers' 21-10 win over the Seahawks at Ford Field in Detroit.
"The first time around, with my play, I didn't help the team win. I almost helped them to lose it," Roethlisberger said. "But it didn't happen. So this time, I'm not going to say it's all on my shoulders, obviously. But if I turn the ball over and I play poorly, it's not going to help our offense and it's not going win this game.
"That was the first time I stayed nervous for an entire game. I played in a championship game in college. Not a national championship, but a MAC championship (at Miami of Ohio) and was never nervous all the way through a football game. I expect it to be different this time. I'm going to go into it and treat it like it's just another football game and go out and have fun. I'm going to treat it like it could be my last."
Only Tom Brady (nine) has won more playoff games than Roethlisberger (seven) in their first five years. And this season, he has battled through injuries to engineer several fourth-quarter comebacks.
Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times, and got accused of holding onto the ball too long. He threw 15 interceptions, but he has no turnovers in the playoffs.
"It's all about winning to me. I don't care how I do it," he said. "If I throw for 300 yards or throw for 100 yards, if we win the game, that's all that matters to me. Of course, I do want to play much better than I did last time because, like I said, I felt like I let the guys down and didn't help them win the football game. To me, it's about promises and trying to win another one."
At 26, Roethlisberger says he knows what to expect Sunday. But one has to wonder if the Steelers quarterback will play well enough to feel like joining in the celebration.
"It's maturity," Ward said. "…We're going to go as far as Ben takes us. … He's going to go out there to shock the world and to let them know that he is a great quarterback. … Ben's definitely on a mission to go out there and prove (wrong) some of the naysayers about his performance in the last Super Bowl."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.