Say what you will about Ben Roethlisberger. He may have the social skills of Matthew McConaughey's character in Dazed & Confused off the field.
On the field though, he could be the toughest quarterback to play in the NFL since the days of single bar facemasks.
It used to be, as recently as two seasons ago, you would hear open mockery of Ben among fans everytime anything less severe than "out (Chrysler)" was mentioned next to his name on the injury report. Doubtful (head). Questionable (ankle). Probable (knee). You could spin one of those crazy dual money wheels from a church carnival, with one wheel containing status and the other body parts. Every week, it seemed, Ben was trying to enhance his legend by mentioning some sort of tweak.
Last year, battered and bruised headed into a Sunday night game in Baltimore, Roethlisberger began to thumb his nose to the critics (Yours truly among them.) when it was bloodied and broken by Ravens' DT Haloti Ngata.
For Monthy Python fans, Roethlisberger was starting to become a living, breathing, football-firing embodiment of the black knight.
"'Tis a flesh wound!"
Last night, in the cold that kept half of us from even leaning out the front door to unplug our Christmas lights, that big, dumb, corn-fed Ohio redneck put enough blue in his collar for every tired, out-of-date cliche that's been muttered about this town.
After taking a hit that twisted his left foot - his plant foot when throwing - to somewhere around 45 degrees past what human ankle joints are supposed to be able to handle without breaking, Roethlisberger limped back into the game after halftime like the black and yellow-shrouded ghost of Willis Reed.
Apologies to Brad Nessler, the NFL Network play-by-play man who used the comparison last night, and to any Knicks fan who can remember the impact of Reed's gimpy comeback in the NBA Finals, but Roethlisberger gutting out what should have been a gimme over the Browns will be the turning point for his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Again, this should have been a walkover for the Steelers. And yes, it will be more of a soul-sucking loss for the Browns, who stuck around until late the 4th quarter, than boost for Pittsburgh.
Do not overlook though, what Roethlisberger's pugnacity does for this team's psyche and his reputation in the locker room. A year and a half ago, no matter what anyone says now, this was a team waiting for it's quarterback to step up and show some maturity, on and off the field. With his off-field issues seemingly far behind him now, Roethlisberger has transcended just being the guy who makes the play in the clutch that no one else could.
He is now the guy who simply plays the game when no one else could.