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Starkey: Big Ben?s Magnificent Seven

| Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011

Sometimes I wonder if the Big Ben-is-the-toughest-quarterback-alive storyline gets overblown.

Philip Rivers played through a torn ACL in a playoff game. Tony Romo shrugged off fractured ribs and a collapsed lung to beat San Francisco this season. Most quarterbacks are tough. It's a job requirement.

Then again, I'm not sure many have thrived amid the sort of year-in, year-out punishment Roethlisberger endures, largely on account of his swashbuckler style. He has now been sacked 309 times (career, not this season). Yet, he refuses to alter his approach.

Isn't that part of what you love about him?

It's not just that Roethlisberger plays through nasty injuries such as the high-ankle sprain he suffered Thursday night. It's the way he plays , all the time, that makes him perfectly suited to the city he represents.

NFL Network's Michael Irvin asked Roethlisberger if he could envision his enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. Roethlisberger said all players dream of that and added, "I'd probably ask 'em to play Frank Sinatra's 'My Way,' because that's how I did it."

Flash back to an obscure but telling play from a 2008 loss to the Colts. Roethlisberger, upon throwing a critical fourth-quarter interception, made a bee-line for cornerback Tim Jennings and nailed him with a reckless head-first tackle.

Or go back two weeks and see Roethlisberger throwing his body into a Cincinnati defender's legs to spring Antonio Brown on an end-around.

Can you picture Peyton Manning doing that• Roethlisberger is the anti-Manning. He would look out of place in a dome. He doesn't throw neat spirals or sack himself to avoid a hit (a move Manning perfected years ago; I believe he is the NFL's all-time leader in self sacks).

Don't get me wrong. Manning's approach is prudent. It fits his personality. He is great.

Roethlisberger just happens to play the brand of quarterback that his franchise — his city — appreciates. In that same vein, I remember ex-Steelers kicker Matt Bahr telling me he felt obligated to try to make tackles on kickoffs, because if he didn't, Jack Lambert might ask why.

Fresh off Roethlisberger's Willis Reed impression Thursday, this seems like an excellent time to review his remarkable 111-game portfolio.

We'll call it Ben's Magnificent 7 — one man's take on the seven most-memorable regular-season games of Roethlisberger's career:

7. Steelers 33, Giants 30, Dec. 18, 2004, Giants Stadium. Roethlisberger out-dueled fellow rookie Eli Manning, drafted 10 spots ahead of him. Set up winning score with 36-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El.

6. Steelers 13, Ravens 10, Dec. 5, 2010, M&T Bank Stadium. Roethlisberger started with a broken foot. He soon added a broken nose, courtesy of Haloti Ngata's left hook. His best play was fending off Terrell Suggs to shovel the ball out of bounds. He then threw the winning pass. "It hurt a lot," Roethlisberger said of his foot. "But the broken nose took some of the pain away."

5. Steelers 24, Browns 20, Nov. 19, 2006, Cleveland Browns Stadium. After three lame quarters, Roethlisberger delivered a dead-on Jim Kelly impression, shrugging off a barrage of hits to direct fourth-quarter TD drives of 87, 79 and 77 yards. The winning play was an ad-lib flip to Willie Parker as Kamerion Wimbley tried to rip Roethlisberger's left arm off.

4. Steelers 31, Browns 28, Nov. 11, 2007, Heinz Field. Twice, Roethlisberger rallied the Steelers from fourth-quarter deficits with heart-stopping drives that included third-down conversions of 10, 6, 18 and 9 yards. He finished the first with a 30-yard TD run on third-and-10 and kept the second alive by stiff-arming Willie McGinest to convert a third-and-9.

3. Steelers 37, Packers 36, Dec. 20, 2009, Heinz Field. The decisive, 86-yard drive included a 32-yard pass to Santonio Holmes on fourth-and-7. Down to his last play, Roethlisberger found Mike Wallace with a 19-yard laser beam in the corner of the end zone. He finished with a franchise-record 503 yards.

2. Steelers 14, Browns 3, Dec. 8, 2011, Heinz Field. This was NFL Network's Rich Eisen at halftime, as footage of Ben on a golf cart ran in the background: "If that's a high-ankle sprain, he's not playing in the second half." Guess again, Rich. Roethlisberger's mere presence in the second half inspired his teammates — win one for the gimper• — and made this a vintage performance. "We know half of Ben is good," safety Ryan Clark said. "We can win with that."

1. Steelers 13, Ravens 9, Dec. 14, 2008, M&T Bank Stadium. With the ball on the Steelers' 8-yard line and 3:36 on the clock, Roethlisberger led an epic march against a Raven-ous defense, capping it with a classic move-move-move-and-fire pass to Holmes at the goal line.

As recounted by Steelers Digest, Mike Tomlin greeted Roethlisberger at the locker-room door that day. The quarterback was the last player to arrive.

"I may be late," he told his coach. "But I'm always on time."

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