Big Ben Towers Over Steeler Nation

On June 12, 2006, my family and I were on vacation at North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a popular beach destination for many Pittsburghers. As it was an overcast day, my daughter and I decided to do some shopping at Scarborough Faire Shopping Village. Near lunchtime as we meandered along the boardwalk that connected the boutiques, my daughter’s cell phone rang. While she answered it, I heard about 15 other cell phones start to ring from all over the shopping village. “Oh no,” my daughter exclaimed and looked at me. “Big Ben’s been in a motorcycle accident.” Around us others were on their phones either gasping in shock or saying breathlessly things like, “What? Big Ben? Is he OK?” Such was the grasp that Steelers quarterback has on Steeler nation.

As his nickname suggests, Ben Roethlisberger does things in a big way whether it be on the football field or in his personal life-mostly for good and sometimes not. Benjamin Roethlisberger was born on March 2, 1982, in nearby Lima, Ohio, to Ida and Ken Roethlisberger, who played quarterback for Georgia Tech as well as pitching on their baseball team. His parent divorced when he was two, and young Ben lived with his father and stepmother, Brenda, but his mother enjoyed visitations with her only child. Tragically, Ida died in a car crash on her way to pick up Ben, who was eight at the time, for a Saturday outing.

Ben attended Findlay High School in Findlay, Ohio, and excelled in three sports: football, baseball and basketball, serving as the captain of each team. He didn’t pay quarterback until his senior year of high school because his coach’s son had claimed that position.

Upon graduation, he attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and played quarterback although he was redshirted in 2000, his first season. During the next three seasons, he established himself as a premiere college quarterback, leading the RedHawks to victory in the 2003 GMAC Bowl and setting numerous records along the way. In 2007, his No. 7 jersey was retired by the RedHawks, becoming only the third athlete in Miami history to be afforded that honor. He did not play his senior year; instead he opted for the NFL draft.

Ben was selected the 11th overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft and signed a six-year contract worth $22.26 million. He started his rookie year with the Steelers as the third quarterback behind Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch, but when both were injured, Ben entered his first NFL game, the second of the season, and made the position his own with some exceptional play, ending the season with a 13-0 record in games that he played. He was unanimously selected as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press.

In 2005, he led the team to a victory in Super Bowl XL (forty) becoming, at 23, the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Hopes were high for a repeat in 2006, but his motorcycle accident and an emergency appendectomy quashed that. The Steelers won the Super Bowl again in 2008. In his 15 seasons with the Steelers, Big Ben has racked up some big stats, including surpassing Terry Bradshaw as having the most passing yards and passing touchdowns for a Steelers quarterback.

But Ben’s career has not been without big controversy. In 2009 and 2010, he faced allegations of sexual assault, which resulted in the NFL’s suspending him without pay for the first six games of the 2010 season for violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

After the suspension, Ben seemed to have settled down, and on July 23, 2011, married Ashley Harlan, a physician assistant from New Castle. In 2012, the couple welcomed their first child, a boy Benjamin Todd Roethlisberger, Jr. The family welcomed a daughter, Baylee Marie, in 2014 and a second son Bodie Hunter in 2016.

In 2012, he completed his college degree at Miami University earning a Bachelor of Science in Education. He also started the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation, which supports police and fire departments throughout the country and particularly emphasizes supporting K-9 units and service dogs. He also supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation and has donated $1 million to his Alma mater, Miami University.

Of Swiss descent, Ben has been celebrated in Switzerland as the biggest thing to come along since the Swiss Army knife, and he and his family traveled there in 2006 as way to encourage others to explore their Swiss heritage.

With two Super Bowl wins so far and a collection of Steelers and NFL records to his name, most observers believe he is a sure bet for the NFL Hall of Fame. If or when he does get inducted, you can be sure it will be a big day for Big Ben and Steeler Nation.

By: Janice Lane Palko

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