By Jason Keidel
Disclaimer: I bleed black & gold. I brand myself a Bradshaw Baby, weaned on Mean Joe Greene. Instead of blankets, my parents wrapped me in Terrible Towels. Most folks think of Latrobe as the home of Arnold Palmer. I think of it as the oasis where my beloved black & gold hold their training camp. Even as an adult I have deferred chunks of my self-esteem to the fate of my beloved Steel Curtain. I profess no objectivity. My only goal is to serve as a vessel for all things from the Three Rivers.
So it is with my jaded view of the world that I address the Ben Roethlisberger – Emmanuel Sanders feud.
Sanders said that his new quarterback, Peyton Manning, is a much better leader than his old quarterback, Big Ben. And thus the verbal jousting began, feathers flexed, talons out.
Antionio Brown took offense, asserting that Ben made Sanders the man he is today. Then Sanders said his parents made him a man, that no colleague had that kind of authority.
Now we hear that Big Ben’s feelings are hurt. Call it childish or myopic. But this is a problem. Big Ben can’t win games if his ego is bruised, if his self esteem is hard-wired into the feelings of his (former) friends.
Indeed, we can repair a knee, wrap a thigh, or set a bone. But how do we make Big Ben whole? How do we restore his mojo, his ancestral perch as Alpha Male? How do we tell Ben that Emmanuel Sanders is little more than a jilted lover taking pot shots at his former partner? This is the NFL equivalent of an angry ex-girlfriend posting pictures online of her new, rebound beau.
Don’t fret, No. 7. The Steelers decided not to pay Sanders. That’s a big boy, not a Big Ben, decision. We know you wanted him back, Ben. Just as you wanted Mike Wallace back before he signed that swollen, $60 million deal with the Dolphins.
Don’t worry, Ben. We have each other, at least in spirit. How, you ask? Well, the woman I love is a Bengals fan. How do you think I feel knowing that she wants us to lose at least twice a year? How do you think I cope on those cold Sundays when we sleep with our backs toward each other?
I am with you, Ben. Besides, Peyton has one Super Bowl ring. How many do you have? I haven’t met you, but as a Steelers fan I owe you a brutal brand of candor. So I can’t rightly say you are a better overall quarterback, but in NFL parlance we judge the singular symbol of leadership by Lombardi Trophies. And you’ve got two, my friend.
We need you focused, brother. It’s been a while since you’ve played deep into January. It’s not your fault, of course. Your defense got old almost overnight and it takes a year or two to infuse it with young talent. And now you’ve got a stud running back, which you’ve lacked most of your career. You are healthy, wealthy, and in your prime. Or close enough to it.
And remember Sanders’ actual statement, Ben. He said he had lots of love for you. He just thought that Peyton spent more time on the field with his receivers, before and after practice. That’s not personal to you, Ben. Peyton has his mail forwarded to the film room. He spends more time in the team facilities than his coaches. Manning is a mutant, a football geek. No one can live up to the pastoral image of football’s first family.
But remember, Ben, Peyton doesn’t have as many Super Bowl wins and twice as many Super Bowl losses. And consider this, Ben, as a kind of karmic justice. Peyton doesn’t even have the most rings in his own bloodline. That would be Eli, who was drafted the same year you were. Think of 2004 as the Draft of Champions. (And Philip Rivers.)
So let Peyton bask in the dubious sobriquets, like “greatest regular-season QB of all-time.” You play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben, where the metrics are way more sophisticated. You play for Q Ratings, not QB Ratings. And everyone loves a winner.
And you, my beloved Big Ben, are a winner. If you don’t believe it, believe me.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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