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Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger takes his place among Super Bowl's best

TAMPA — Given a handful of moments, he changed history.

Entrusted with the dreams of a franchise, he passed for glory.

In one unforgettable evening, Ben Roethlisberger made you reconsider all that you once thought about a quarterback whose bottom line has always been better than his line of statistics.

Remember this moment. Savor this performance. For it was as good as any you will see by a quarterback with a championship in the balance. It took 122 seconds, it covered 78 yards, and it will last an eternity.

"A lot of other quarterbacks have a lot better stats," Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward said. "The only thing that matters with Ben is that he's a winner."

There were hundreds of reasons why the Steelers beat the Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday evening. You could talk about James Harrison running away with an interception. You could talk about the catches made by MVP Santonio Holmes, and the sacks collected by LaMarr Woodley.

But comebacks are typically written by quarterbacks, and Roethlisberger has authored one of the finest you will ever see. If the passes were special, the circumstances were extraordinary.

Think about what happened in the final minutes of that game. The Steelers, a team built on defense, collapsed in the fourth quarter. They gave up one quick touchdown drive, and then another even more quickly.

The story should have ended there. Kurt Warner should have walked off with his second Super Bowl MVP award, and a reservation for some future Hall of Fame party in Canton.

All that stood in the way was Roethlisberger's undying will.

The Steelers were trailing for the first time all evening when they walked on the field with 2:30 remaining and the ball on their 22. A holding penalty took them another 10 yards and six seconds farther from victory.

And that was when Roethlisberger took over. He completed 5 of 7 passes for 84 yards, and scrambled for 4 more. By the time the Steelers got to the 6, Roethlisberger had played nearly eight full quarters of Super Bowl football. He had thrown 50 passes with three interceptions, and no touchdowns.

And that's when he nailed Holmes with the winner.

"I know he was eager to play in this game because he wanted to prove to all the naysayers that he can play and perform at the top level," said Ward. "He sure did it on that last drive. That was kind of Joe Montana-ish. He's done that all year.

"So I'm happy for him because I think this helped solidify him as one of the better quarterbacks in this league."

For posterity's sake, Roethlisberger was asked the name of the touchdown play:

"Drop back, scramble right, scramble left, find someone open."

That's probably not the official name, but it will suffice. Roethlisberger's first read on the play was the running back in the flat. That was covered. So he looked for Ward on a slant and saw him open short of the end zone. But there was a defender closing fast, and Roethlisberger was afraid of time running out before a possible field goal and overtime.

As a last resort, he looked for Holmes in the corner of the end zone. It was a pass he had no business completing. Three defenders surrounded Holmes.

Roethlisberger threw the ball in perhaps the only 6-inch square area of Tampa airspace that would win a Super Bowl.

"We expect those things from him. We know what he's capable of," fullback Carey Davis said. "We'll take a few risks because, more times than not, he's going to come out of it and make a big play for us."

Once, he was the accidental champion. The guy who got his first Super Bowl ring on the backs of others.

Roethlisberger, 26, has never disputed this characterization. He has never tried to make excuses for how poorly he played in Super Bowl XL when the Steelers beat the Seahawks. Not that excuses would have helped. Roethlisberger's quarterback rating of 22.6 was the lowest of any Super Bowl winner.

This time, there will be no asterisk. This time, the glory is his.

Maybe you still would take Tom Brady. He does have one more Super Bowl ring than Roethlisberger. And maybe your memory still favors Bart Starr. His 9-1 postseason record is one victory better than Roethlisberger's 8-2 mark.

But if you were still wondering, you can now be sure.

If you were still doubting, you might as well concede.

For, on a cool February night in Tampa, Roethlisberger changed a world of perceptions.

On this night, he changed history.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger takes his place among Super Bowl's best 02/01/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 2, 2009 9:02am]
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