Two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger still scaling the pain barriers

“When someone asks, ‘Are you one hundred per cent?’ you say ‘Yes’ but really 90 per cent is a 100 per cent during the season”

Ben Roethlisberger: paid a handsome tribute to Steelers’ owner Dan Rooney.

It being July 4th we are at the currently vacant US Ambassador's residence in the Phoenix Park to interview Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The sitting gets moved to the library so Kodaline can do a sound check on the front lawn. The sun is shining and my hay fever is playing up something fierce.

Unfortunately the obviously sports conversation is lost on the two-time Super Bowl winner. Roethlisberger would recognise Brian O'Driscoll as well as Christopher Walken did Robert De Niro when reacquainted for a game of Russian roulette in The Deer Hunter.

What these elite sportsmen do have in common, however, is a history of scaling enormously high pain barriers. “No one plays the game at 100 per cent,” said Roethlisberger.


“When someone asks, ‘Are you one hundred per cent?’ you say ‘Yes’ but really 90 per cent is a 100 per cent during the season and you have just trained your body to be that way.”

So, you always play hurt?

“You have to. If you waited until you weren’t hurt then you might not play the rest of the season. We talk a lot about the (Baltimore) Ravens game and you have to go into that game knowing that for three or four weeks after, you are going to be sore.

“And you have a game the week after and the week after that, yet you are still sore from that game.

“Last year the shoulder was pretty bad but two years ago the high ankle strain was one of the most painful things I ever dealt with.

“It’s hard to play quarterback when you can’t walk. We did get to the playoffs and I had to wear a huge splint all the way up my leg. It was just uncomfortable.”

Roethlisberger can take it. In 2006 he survived a head-on collision with the windscreen of a Chrysler after coming off his motorcycle. He wasn't wearing a helmet but following seven hours of surgery, repairing jaw and nose fractures, he made a full recovery in time for preseason.

Surveys the scene
Nobody notices the frail 80-year-old man quietly entering the room. Dan Rooney surveys the scene, nods at the suddenly erect Steelers media guy and departs.

Barrack Obama’s first Ambassador to Ireland, and Steelers chairman since 1975, came up with the idea of the Flag Football Classic at Deerfield House on Independence Day.

He brought along the 31-year-old future Hall of Famer this time. “People always ask me what makes Pittsburgh special, why the tradition, why the history, why the most Lombardi’s (six), to me it starts at the top with him and his family.

“When he was in Pittsburgh we saw him after every game win or lose.

“For us to see our owner every day whether out at practice or just coming to say hi or sitting down to have lunch with you, that speaks volumes and translates down to the coaches and the players.

“Players want to be here, even when they leave, they always want to come back. That’s what makes our team special and it starts with him. I heard it started with his father before him.”

Finally, we ask about the changing nature of the quarterback, and how modern day athletes are threatening to make beefy specimens like Roethlisberger extinct. “Yeah, that’s the new fad right now but it never seems to last.

"You look at Cam Newton in his rookie year and he was the greatest thing in the world but defences figure you out. You've got to stay healthy. As much as it looks good, the Colin Kaepernicks, the RG3s and these guys that run the ball a lot, you don't have many quarterbacks who have lasted 10, 12 years who are running quarterbacks.

“There is a difference between mobile quarterbacks and being a runner. They get hit a lot. Robert Griffin’s last injury happened when he went to pick the ball up, no one even touched him. That just shows you that to sustain that level of running is going to be hard.

“It’s still a passing league. Quarterbacks have got to be able to throw the ball.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent