Ben Roethlisberger’s reputation in Cincinnati goes beyond the football field at Paul Brown Stadium.
“My best friend, Jamie Cooper is from here and he’s getting married,” Roethlisberger said with a grin late Sunday afternoon as he stood just outside the visitors’ dressing room at PBS. “He said he’s not having his wedding here.”
He didn’t specify if he meant the stadium or the entire city, but either way, with Roethlisberger at the event, the multi-tiered cake likely would crumble, the ring would be lost and the newlyweds would be more apt to end up in divorce court than on an extended honeymoon.
Nothing goes right for folks here – and certainly not the Cincinnati Bengals – when Ben Roethlisberger comes to town.
The Pittsburgh Steelers veteran quarterback – who grew up in Findlay, was schooled at Miami University in Oxford and said he “loves” coming back to Ohio – is now 15-2 against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
Sunday’s final seconds, come from behind, 28-21 victory over Cincinnati was one of the most dramatic triumphs in that long string of dominance.
The Bengals took the lead back, 21-20, with Joe Mixon’s 4-yard touchdown run and Randy Bullock’s point after with 78 seconds left in the game.
Pittsburgh’s Ryan Switzer then ran the ensuing kickoff out to the 23-yard line, leaving just 72 seconds left in the clock.
But the Steelers had three time outs left … and they had Roethlisberger.
On the sideline, just before taking the field, the future Hall of Famer gathered his offensive mates.
“I just told the guys, ‘This is what legacies are made of for all of us guys,’” Roethlisberger said. “I told em, ‘Let’s go out there and take care of business.’”
Once he got in the huddle he pinpointed his message even more said Steelers right guard David DeCastro:
“He came in and said, ‘They gave us too much time. We got this!’”
Asked about that later, Roethlisberger seemed a little surprised, then just laughed and shook his head: “They’re not supposed to give that kind of stuff out.”
Roethlisberger then calmly completed three of six passes and with the help of a cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick’s five-yard holding penalty – got his team down the field to the Cincinnati 31 with 15 seconds left.
“Ben was just super chilled,” said Steelers left guard Ramon Foster. “He’s been in this situation so many times and he doesn’t get excited. He takes control and we feed off that.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin agreed: “It’s probably not what comes over Ben in that situation. He’s probably just himself when others aren’t in those moments. He’s been in it so many times he’s built for it and because of that, we’re built for it.”
Although the Steelers were in range for a long Chris Boswell field goal, he’s had some shaky moments this season and the team wanted to get a little closer with one final play.
The Bengals countered with an all-out blitz, rather than drop defenders back in coverage and it was a fatal mistake.
Even though they were trying to disguise their plot, Roethlisberger read it, called an audible and promptly hit Antonio Brown who – thanks to a big block from fellow receiver Justin Hunter – sprinted untouched 31 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
Roethlisberger’s two-point conversion pass brought the final score to 28-21.
Brown had nearly been knocked out of the game earlier when he was tackled helmet to helmet by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. There was no flag, but Brown was helped to the sideline, and admitted he was woozy.
“When you come in here they call it The Jungle, so there’s gonna be hard hits,” he said. “That was a nasty hit. It was a play that could be challenged, but thank God I was able to get back up”.
This rivalry had been especially nasty in years past, but there weren’t as many cheap shot plays and penalties Sunday as in years past.,
More than one Steelers though said there were “threats” from some of the Bengals, all of which they dismissed as the amped up actions that sometimes come in the heat of competition.
The Steelers though are cognizant of what can happen on this field.
Last year’s game in early December was marred by an injury to Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier.
He suffered a serious neck injury and was taken off the field strapped to the back of a cart. He underwent spinal stabilization surgery and was finally released from a Pittsburgh hospital in early February and began a long rehab process that continues.
He’s never played football again, though he can walk with a bit of a limp and a herky-jerky motion.
This weekend he travelled with the team to Cincinnati, visited the hospital here where he was initially treated and Sunday walked onto the field with his team before the game.
Player after player hugged him and Roethlisberger was especially moved.
“Walking with him was emotional,” he said with a wavering voice afterward. “What happened here today was special. This is a place we’ll always remember, not just for the football, but for life.”