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Big Ben Not So Loved?

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  • Big Ben Not So Loved?

    It's only rumor, but it's supposedly verified, and I love any negativity about the Steelers.


    A little over four years ago, yours truly inadvertently triggered a blow-up from coach Bill Cowher with a report that Steelers players weren't too fond of the attitude of then-starter Kordell Stewart, and that they preferred the performance of newly-arrived backup Tommy Maddox.

    Fourteen months later, Maddox was the starter -- and Kordell had a pine-seat layover on his journey out of town.

    When asked about the story during an August 2001 press conference, Cowher took issue with the fact that it was attributed to unnamed sources. "Let me say this. I am not going to sit here and have people . . . hide behind names. It's really a detriment to you people out there. When you people give credence to things like that, it makes me sick. It really does."

    To our knowledge, we haven't provoked a similar response from Cowher since then.

    So what the hell? Let's give it another shot.

    For months, we've noticed a curious phenomenon in the 'Burgh. The fans love quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The organization coddles him. The local media (for the most part) won't criticize him.

    And, per multiple league sources, many of his teammates hate him.

    That's right, hate. Offensive line? Hate. Other quarterbacks on the roster? Hate. Members of the defense? Hate.

    The only guys on offense we can't get a feel for are the receivers and running backs. Our guess is that the pass-catchers and ball-toters know not to express any displeasure with the guy primarily responsible for distributing the pigskin.

    And, yes, Coach Cowher, we don't plan to name our sources on this one. But we'll disclose that there are two of them, and we'll say, in the new tradition of Newsweek, that they are sources with knowledge of the situation who have asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject matter.

    We've posted plenty of stories about Big Ben's Big Head That Doesn't House A Big Brain, so there's no need to rehash them here. But we've recently learned of an incident from last season that further confirms the locker-room attitude toward the 2004 rookie of the year.

    Among NFL teams, players often acquire their teammates' jerseys and ask their teammates to autograph them. Sometimes the signed jerseys are framed and put on the players' walls in their homes. And sometimes the signed jerseys are given as gifts.

    We're told by one source that, when Roethlisberger was approached by some of his teammates last December to sign some of his jerseys, he launched into a "Ryan Leaf" tirade regarding the request. The other source confirmed generally that Roethlisberger was "bitching" about requests from teammates for his John Hancockberger.

    Okay, Ben, we know that it takes a long time to write the word "Roethlisberger." And we know it's hard to spell it right, even for you. But throwing a tantrum is a tad over the top.

    This image, of course, is a stark contrast to the picture painted by Mark Maske of The Washington Post last week. Maske wrote that Roethlisberger routinely spends an hour or more signing fan autographs at training camp.

    "I just try to take everything in stride," Roethlisberger told Maske. "The big thing for me is you have to know that you live in a fishbowl, especially being in this town, with the fans and the way they love football. You just have to know your role and go with it. . . . You have to learn to adapt to your environment and your surroundings. It's always been this way for me, but never to the extreme it is now."

    Translation: Big Ben is at least smart enough to know that it's important for him to keep the paying customers happy.

    But Maske also goes out of his way (arguably) to say that Roethlisberger "was -- and is -- liked and respected by teammates." Curiously, however, Maske cites only running back Jerome Bettis in support of this assertion.

    What about the other 80-some guys in camp? Or the other 50-some guys who were on the team in 2004?

    Bettis, to be sure, has no reason to dog his starting quarterback. After all, this is likely Jerome's last chance to get a Super Bowl ring. So our guess is that Bettis spends a lot of time in the locker room making excuses for Big Ben, even as he Ben continues to piss off teammates with his words and demeanor.

    Will this kind of stuff have a direct effect on the performance of the team? We don't know. But chemistry is very important in the post-salary cap NFL, and when there are too many guys on the team who hate the starting quarterback, that's not good for anybody.
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