Steelers ready to welcome Ben Roethlisberger back
Dan Rooney stood in a corner of a solemn Steelers locker room Sunday following the 17-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field, speaking softly about the elephant in the room known simply as No. 7.
Conspicuous by his absence, Ben Roethlisberger sat out the final game of his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy with a second sexual-assault accusation in nine months.
Roethlisberger is eligible to return to all team activities today for the first time since Sept. 2, when his ban from Steelers facilities began following the final preseason game.
"We're looking forward to having him back, but as far as this game, I'm not putting anything on him," said Rooney, the Steelers' chairman emeritus and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.
Rooney hasn't spoken with Roethlisberger during his exile but noted that the Pro Bowl quarterback has "done very, very well" during the suspension.
"He's committed himself," Rooney said. "He did everything he could."
That the Steelers went 3-1 without Roethlisberger and intended replacement Byron Leftwich provided small consolation. Roethlisberger's impending return did little to lift the spirits of Steelers players who watched the Ravens score in the final minute to snatch away a victory.
"Honestly, he's one of 53 guys on this team, and I think people should understand that we had an opportunity to win the game, whether he was out there or not, and we didn't," strong safety Troy Polamalu said. "Obviously, he's an extremely talented quarterback. We look forward to him coming back. Given the circumstance we were in, we had an opportunity to win all the games, but we didn't."
Yet, starting today, Steelers players realize the team could be significantly better than one that came within 32 seconds of a 4-0 start this season.
"Of course; we're getting our starting quarterback, our franchise, back," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "It means a lot. He definitely helps this team become a better ballclub."
Defensive end Brett Keisel, Roethlisberger's best friend on the team, said the quarterback has been "doing good" despite missing the game, the competition and the camaraderie with his teammates for the past month.
"Getting anyone that has done what he's done back is going to be great for us," Keisel said. "We'll just welcome him with open arms and move forward. ... It's been hard on him, but through it all, it's made him a better person. We'll be glad to get him back."