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Big Ben brings sense of competitiveness

| Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, shown on the sideline against the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium last month, is perhaps the fiercest competitor on the Steelers. (Chaz Palla | Tribune Review)
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger plays against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field Aug 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

In the lobby of the Steelers' South Side practice complex, a TV is replaying coach Mike Tomlin's comments that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is a “ridiculous competitor.”

Just down a hallway, a competitor some Steelers believe hates to lose as badly as Manning does – and never bothers to hide it – is getting ready for practice. Except it's not a normal practice.

To fellow Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich, there is never a normal practice for Ben Roethlisberger, who always finds a way to compete. Maybe it's the number of passes he can flip successfully into a garbage can or how many throws he can complete in a row.

Table tennis in the locker room? Hates to lose. The miniature basketball hoop that was located close to Roethlisberger's locker? He will play as many shooting games as possible – best-of-3, best-of-7, best-of-211 – in order to win.

Ridiculous competitor? Yes, the Steelers know one.

“Oh man, I'm playing with the guy right now,” said wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who was floored by Roethlisberger's competitiveness when he joined the Steelers last season. “I haven't seen anything like this dude.”

Cotchery includes Brett Favre, his former Jets teammate, in that statement.

“Brett Favre was a very competitive guy. Chad Pennington, oh, man, he was fierce,” Cotchery said. “This guy here? I don't know where he comes from. Before I came here, I've seen images of him breaking his nose and sticking something up it and getting back on the field. It's crazy. He's just anxious to get back out there and get his team to a victory. This guy is extremely into it.”

Cotchery was referring to the Dec. 5, 2010, game against the Ravens in which Roethlisberger's nose was broken on a hit by Haloti Ngata, but he stayed in the game and helped rally the Steelers to a pivotal 13-10 win that helped pushed them to the Super Bowl.

The Steelers' opener Sunday night in Denver is being billed as Peyton Manning's comeback game; Roethlisberger was jokingly referred to as “the other quarterback” on a national TV sportscast a few nights ago.

Despite the supposed slight, Leftwich doesn't believe Roethlisberger will draw any extra incentive from taking on one of the sport's iconic players.

“You don't see a whole lot of people compete (in practice) on a daily basis, and that's what you want,” Leftwich said. “That's the part that people don't realize; how highly competitive he is. How perfect he wants to be in games, how he works at the little things so the big things happen. It's on a constant basis every day. He wants to be able to do this, this and this, because he knows if he can do these things on a consistent basis on Sundays, it'll make it a whole lot easier.”

Steelers linebacker Larry Foote saw the exact same thing when Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a 15-1 record as a rookie in 2004.

Asked to compare Roethlisberger to Manning, Foote said, “Our quarterback is more reckless abandon. He stares down the barrel. He doesn't blink. He does a great job. Both of them are competitors. To play at this level and have as much success as these two have, you've got to be an ultimate competitor.”

Roethlisberger is 1-2 against Peyton Manning, losing to him twice in the regular season (2005 and 2008) but beating him in a January 2006 AFC divisional playoff game. And the two seasons Roethlisberger lost to Manning, the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

“As a quarterback, you always know who's on the other side of the field,” Leftwich said. “You're not playing against those guys … but he understands who's the quarterback for the Denver Broncos. He knows.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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