Ahead of Super Bowl XL some 14 years ago, aging Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis allowed cameras to follow him around and showcase what he endured physically to play in an NFL game. The segment aired during Super Bowl pregame and, though I searched in vain to find it on YouTube, what I remember clearly from it was the pain on his face as he walked down the stairs and saying his body felt like it was in a "car accident" after every game.
That memory stirred this morning when I read a quote from Ben Roethlisberger about what his body felt like in the aftermath of the Steelers' Week 1 win over the New York Giants. In his first game back since suffering what could have been a career-ending elbow injury in Week 2 last year, Roethlisberger stayed mostly upright, and yet this is what it was like for him waking up on Tuesday and Wednesday morning.
The NFL is a physically punishing sport and everyone who plays it knows there will be pain at the end of each game. But seeing it in those terms provides a clearer perspective. And this was in a game Big Ben didn't take much abuse.
Roethlisberger was sacked twice against the Giants and took three additional hits while passing, according to ProFootballFocus. If taking five hits in a game results in you feeling like you were in a trainwreck, what is Roethlisberger going to feel like in Week 16? Hell, what's he going to feel like in Week 2?
Bettis was 33-years-old when he retired from football after winning that elusive Super Bowl in 2006. When I interviewed him a few weeks ago, I asked him about his health and he said he was feeling good and able to play golf, which clearly meant something to him. He also said Roethlisberger was the toughest teammate he ever had, which likewise means something coming from a player like Bettis who dealt with pain throughout his NFL career.
Roethlisberger is now 38-years-old playing against 20-somethings who probably don't remember him helping lead the Steelers to that Super Bowl and deliver a ring to a franchise legend who was holding out for just that. He's played only one full season since 2015 and has battled too many injuries to count during that time. At this point, they're adding up and his body is dealing with the consequences.
Is Big Ben looking for one more title run before hanging it up and riding off into the sunset like Bettis? Of course, every athlete dreams of retiring on top. But the ride up the mountain is fraught with danger and pain as Bettis can attest. Clearly, Roethlisberger is willing to deal with that as long as he can.