Since the Bus was shown the door, I’ve done my best to avoid the Sunday Night Football pregame show. Bob Costas is an annoying little Hobbit while Keith Olbermann has a smug arrogance that makes me want to punch him in the face. And don’t even get me started on Rodney Harrison. I’m perfectly happy to tune in about five minutes before game time, pause to enjoy Faith Hill in hooker boots, then go make a sandwich until kickoff.
Of course, this strategy backfired this week when SNF actually presented something newsworthy during their show. The Hobbit sat down with Hines Ward and asked him about Ben Roethlisberger sitting out with a concussion. Normally, you’d expect to hear the typical jock speak about rallying around your fallen leader or other assorted sports cliches. However this time, things didn’t go according to script.
Hines Ward did everything short of stating his quarterback had a small penis in a shocking display of team disharmony. In fact, by stating the locker room was divided “50-50″ on whether Ben should play, he dragged the entire team into controversy. In the past 24 hours, Hines has backed off his statements slightly, trying to frame his comments as being caught off-guard by the fact Ben practiced normally all week only to blindside everybody with post-concussion symptoms on Saturday morning. But Hines Ward is an intelligent man and I have no doubt he knew EXACTLY what he was saying when he called out his quarterback in front of a national audience.
Predictably, I’m noticing backlash against Hines. The local media, which is nothing more than a public relations tool for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has rushed to Ben’s defense. It also seems the majority of the fanbase, typically enamored with the “star quarterback,” are displeased with Hines. I’ve heard words like “selfish” or “prima donna” being used in reference to Ward which frankly angers me. This is the man who played in the Super Bowl with a partially torn MCL and who has never whined about not getting thrown the ball nor done anything except repeat his desire to win. If that makes him a prima donna, maybe the Steelers need more of them so they wouldn’t be in the situation their in.
About a month ago, ESPN did an in-depth profile of Big Ben. In that piece, they reveal the fact he wasn’t popular with his teammates for a long time. This may be new information to the national media but anybody who obsessively follows the Steelers knew this a long time ago. Rookie QB Mark Sanchez is a captain on the Jets while Ben wasn’t named an offensive captain until his fourth season here. In 2007, he made the Pro Bowl yet his teammates voted James Harrison (who only had 8 sacks that year) the Team MVP. The only problem with the piece is the disconnect between Ben and the rest of the team evidently still exists to a degree.
Look, I like Big Ben. I think he’s a great quarterback and I’m thrilled that we have him. But at the same time, I understand where his teammates could be annoyed by him. His constant injuries are ridiculous. You don’t think Hines Ward or any number of defensive players suit up each week while nursing injuries that would keep us normal people in bed for a week? Yet, Ben always seems to find a way to get the news out that his pinky is jammed or his ankle is sprained or his knee is twisted or whatever the Ouchie Of The Week seems to be. He’s a Drama Queen and it’s an annoying character flaw for anybody, especially a pro athlete. And it gives him, or more accurately his starry-eyed supporters in the media, a convenient excuse for when he makes mistakes.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying we should get rid of him. I’m not saying he’s a bum. I’m not saying we could’ve won those two Super Bowls without him. But what I am saying, and what I think goes to the root of this team disharmony, is that Ben gets a disproportionate share of the credit. He’s a good quarterback and he is extremely good in clutch situations but anybody who seriously tries to argue he’s as good as (or better than) Peyton Manning or Tom Brady is insane. Watch either of those guys, watch the throws they make, and you have to be a blind homer (or Bruce Arians) to think they have comparable passing skills. Ben came in and had a great first couple seasons because he had a great running game with the Bus and FWP to take pressure off him. Last year, he pulled out a lot of great comebacks but we were only in position to come back because of our defense. Not to mention he has one future Hall of Fame receiver and two other Pro Bowl caliber targets (Holmes and Miller) to throw at.
How do you think he’d fare with Andre Hastings and Charles Johnson?
I understand concussions are a serious matter. I realize that Ben needs to be concerned for his long term health and make sure he’s not the NFL’s version of Muhammad Ali in twenty years. At the same time, I feel Hines Ward is getting a bad rap in this whole deal. Should he have aired dirty team laundry in public? No. But at the same time, this man has sacrificed more than we’ll probably ever know (since he doesn’t have P.R. agents reporters announcing his every injury) because he wants to WIN. So before everybody jumps on the “Hines is a bad guy” bandwagon, I hope they take the time to look at things from his point of view.
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