For the past few days, I’ve been thinking about writing something about Roethlisberger, but it’s a subject that is a bit difficult to broach.
I like Big Ben. I think he along so with a few other guys like Brady, Vick, Palmer, and others are going to be the core of the elite quarterbacks for much of the next decade or so much like guys like Aikman, Kelly, Elway, Marino, etc. were in the early part of the 1990s. That fifteen or twenty years from now, people are going to be talking about teams like Atlanta, New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati looking for that next franchise passer to replace those guys much like Dallas, Buffalo, Denver, and Miami have struggled to find since their big fish called it quits.
Is that future still possible? Of course it is. We still don’t know the full extent of Roethlisberger’s injuries, so we really can’t be sure how much this is going to affect his career long-term. It could be an issue that only has significant detriment to this year or next year, and by 2008 or so Big Ben will be back on track to picking up where he finished this past year.
My ability to judge this situation is predicated on it occurring to the Falcons. Being somewhat a fan of the Pittsburgh Steeler organization, but not being anywhere near the level I am of the Falcons, it’s a bit unfair to judge this situation at face value. Fact is, I believe Roethlisberger was stupid, but I’m not sure how to react to it because it doesn’t effect me deeply. Since this isn’t the first instance of pro football players behaving badly, and I tend not to jump on celebrities and athletes when they do stupid things unless it’s a poor example set for the kids. And truthfully, Roethlisberger may have proven in this incident in his accident to set a better example for the kids than some people think. Roethlisberger’s marketability is built both on his play on the field and his generally pleasing physical features (a roundabout way of saying the ladies like him). He has threatened both with this accident, at least for the short-term, and now those coming up that look to him as a role model may think twice about their reckless activities.
But I’m wondering what my reaction would be if this were say, Michael Vick instead of Big Ben? It’s not as easy a comparison to make as it would seem. Vick has clearly been the face of this franchise since Ron Hill maneuvered to get him a week before the 2001 Draft. Big Ben, not so much. That future has been there for him, but he came to a team that already a face in Bettis. Sure the Falcons had Jamal, but since his injuries his star had fallen quickly by April 2001. Not to mention the Steelers aren’t an organization that needs a persona and talent like Vick to re-invigorate a struggling fan base and reset 35 years of generally disappointing football. Not to mention, what a difference being a sixth year player and a third year player makes for a quarterback. Vick is well into his career as a Falcon and NFL player, and the fact of the matter is that there are those within and without the organization that could see him not being a Falcon for a significantly longer period of time. Big Ben is just beginning and is off to a greater start than Mr. Vick and Mr. Brady. We imagine that Big Ben still has a lot of football to play after he recovers from his injuries, and time can heal some of the wounds that he may have inflicted upon the Steeler faithful just as it can his own.
Perhaps not the case if the same situation occurred with No. 7. For many of the Falcon faithful, an event such as No. 7 joyriding and putting the success of their 2006 season in jeopardy might in fact be the final straw to turn the tide against Michael Vick. There are many of us, including myself, that really see this upcoming season as possibly the final test for Michael Vick to showcase that passing ability that will give us fans complete confidence that he truly is our guy. That he is a little bit more than just a Randall Cunningham, who was an excellent player in his own regard, but never really developed into a championship-caliber player. Yes, Big Ben was going to help the Steelers defend their championship, but few believed this was going to be one of his last opportunities. I’m not going to say that this season is Vick’s last chance. But if I were to take this year and the next two or three years, collectively, it may be.
So again, it’s a difficult situation to compare. Imagine if in 2002, the Falcons had done the impossible and managed to steal a Super Bowl victory that year, and then the following off-season Vick suffered an injury not on the field like he did, but riding around helmet-less on a bike (or similarly reckless activity), I think I would have been much more willing to forgive and forget. If that had occurred now, I don’t think so.
I think honestly if that happened to Vick now, I would want him gone in Atlanta by opening day. Vick is my favorite Falcon and second favorite player in the NFL (Chad Johnson still reigns supreme in my book), but I think such an event would have such a terrible taste in my mouth considering where the Falcons are now compared to three years ago, that I would want him gone. Trade him, cut him, whatever just find a way that he’s shuffled aside and Matt Schaub is now the man in Atlanta. Many might see that as disloyal or vile to turn so quickly on a player I love, but that’s the nature of it. This is football, the game I love. It’s not basketball, where I have far greater loyalty to the players than I do to any team. I am an Atlanta Falcon fan first, a Michael Vick fan second. I like this team for a decade before Michael Vick, and I’m sure I’ll like them for many decades afterwards. Michael Vick currently holds my hopes and dreams for the Falcons, but he isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last. And him head-butting a car windshield is certainly enough impact to have those hopes and dreams come crashing down around me to the point that I may in fact hate him. Maybe not to the same level of rage that the words “Ryan” and “Leaf” cause to Charger fans, but pretty close.
So for now, I’m just glad Michael Vick didn’t do his impression of a Harley-riding Superman in the middle of traffic. He’s not invincible anymore. When it comes down to my opinion on Big Ben’s actions and misfortune now after seeing them somewhat through the eyes of a hometown fan, I’m definitely reading to make fun of him, but I won’t grab that hammer and nail quite yet to crucify him.