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Crosby, Big Ben taking the world by storm

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Sunday, Aug. 26, 2007
 

In a city where leaving has become a rite of passage, young stars have found a home.

Take Ben Roethlisberger, the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Consider Sidney Crosby, the youngest captain in NHL history. See Luke Ravenstahl, the youngest mayor of any major United States' city.

Actually, Ravenstahl, 27, would understand if his name never entered into the conversation.

"The reality is that on a national level, I am not even a drop on the radar screen compared to Ben Roethlisberger and Sidney Crosby," Ravenstahl said. "People in other cities, people around the world, often identify first with a city's sports franchises. So, in that respect, Ben and Sidney are Pittsburgh for a lot of people.

"They symbolize the future."

Longtime marketing expert Bob Derda agrees.

"Ben and Sid represent the young Pittsburgh, which is significant," said Derda, associate athletic director of external relations at Duquesne University and a former marketing executive for the Pirates, the National Basketball Association and ClearChannel Communications.

"This is the young, vibrant Pittsburgh, and in the minds of many, these are the two guys leading the charge."

Roethlisberger, 25, is entering his fourth season as Steelers quarterback, a position of influence among the team's rabid fans. His career winning percentage stands at .766, and the Steelers have won five of his six playoff games, including Super Bowl XL.

Crosby, 20, will enter his third season with the Penguins. He won the 2006 MVP and led the league in scoring while amassing 200 career points faster than any player. His Penguins last season reached the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2001.

"The town belongs to (Roethlisberger) and (Crosby)," Derda said. "And it will probably be that way for quite some time."

Lucky landing

Roethlisberger and Crosby grew up in small towns with working-class people. Both players identify with Pittsburgh's blue-collar tradition.

"Pittsburgh is a place I really enjoy," Crosby said. "There are a lot of similarities to where I grew up in Cole Harbour (Nova Scotia), starting with the people. I relate to the people in Pittsburgh. ... When I came there, the way they welcomed me, the way they have treated -- it was very sincere."

Roethlisberger, a native of Findlay, Ohio, offered similar remarks during his remarkable rookie and super sophomore seasons.

Roethlisberger's success resulted in some national writers referring to Pittsburgh as "Roethlisburgh." Even Crosby, then a rookie phenom, waved a "Terrible Towel" in front of a sellout crowd at Mellon Arena after a Penguins' victory.

Fitting, said CNBC sports marketing analyst Darren Rovell.

"In terms of national recognition, Crosby will never attain what Roethlisberger did in 2004 and 2005," Rovell said. "People around North America will always think of the Steelers first when they think of Pittsburgh. The worst Steelers team is more identifiable to the city than the best Penguins team."

Crosby likes the atmosphere.

"When I came here, I had expectations of this being a big sports town," Crosby said. "It has been that and probably more. The fans have been great."

As the focus of the Steeler Nation, Roethlisberger is more guarded.

"I don't know what it is like being him, but I know being me and how Pittsburgh is with its Steelers," Roethlisberger said. "It is not always the easiest thing, but it is something you have to deal with."

There are sacrifices stars such as Roethlisberger and Crosby make. For example, neither player shops on a Saturday afternoon and both acknowledge the side door is the easiest way to enter a restaurant.

"But when I want to have a quieter night and blend in, I can," Crosby said. "It is really different that way here. The biggest thing about Pittsburgh fans is the respect they give you. That makes it really comfortable."

Bond between stars

In many ways, these two star athletes could not be more different. But there are some marked similarities.

Each player has benefited from endorsement deals big and small.

• Roethlisberger teams with Nike nationally and PLB Sports locally.

• Crosby pairs globally with Reebok, but also works with Frameworth Sports Marketing of Canada - one of many deals he has exclusively in his native country. NBC hockey analyst Bill Clement said Crosby is "Canada's biggest star, by far."

Only star quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Michael Vick sold more jerseys than Roethlisberger's No. 7 in 2004-05, according to Sports Business Journal. No hockey sweater has sold more than Crosby's No. 87 since his debut in 2005, the NHL said.

Both players have made charitable inroads, too.

The Ben Roethlisberger Foundation is in its first year and benefits animal rights, law enforcement and youth sports. It will donate a police dog to each city the Steelers visit this season - a cost of over $10,000 per dog, according to Ryan Tollner, Roethlisberger's agent.

Crosby hasn't established a foundation of his own, but said he plans to do so soon. For now he offers his time to the Mario Lemieux Foundation for cancer research.

These guys are set for life financially, too.

Roethlisberger's rookie contract included $9 million in signing bonuses. After this season, the Steelers reportedly will make signing Roethlisberger to a long-term extension a top priority. Given the going rate for NFL quarterbacks that win as often as Roethlisberger, a deal worth $20 million in guaranteed bonuses is possible.

Crosby agreed last month to a five-year extension that will keep him in Pittsburgh until 2013 and promises $43.5 million.

Take away their beloved video games, and the common ground seemingly ends there.

Both young men said they consider Pittsburgh home, but only Roethlisberger lives here year-round. He recently moved from Washington's Landing Marina to a house in Hampton. Crosby will continue to reside at Lemieux's house in Sewickley during the hockey season and return to Canada during the summer.

"Ben appreciates his privacy... but I would imagine by the end of his career in Pittsburgh there will be a whole lot of stories about Ben just popping up places in the city," Tollner said.

Crosby's agent, Pat Brisson, said his client likes the background. "A normal life and space (are) important to him," he said.

The site of Roethlisberger mingling with a posse at Roland's Seafood Grill in the Strip District or Nakama Japanese Steakhouse on the South Side is not uncommon. A glimpse of Crosby in public is rarer than the filet mignon at his favorite Downtown restaurant, Morton's.

Serious business

Roethlisberger and Crosby met at Lemieux's charity golf tournament last month. Specifics of their brief conversation remain closely guarded.

For Roethlisberger, his social life has generated headlines and gossip fodder beyond Pittsburgh. He is reportedly dating actress Missy Peregrym. As a rookie, he dated professional golfer Natalie Gulbis.

Crosby rarely plays the field publicly. "He is so young and hockey means so much to him," teammate Ryan Whitney said of a famously focused Crosby, who was training the morning after being honored at the NHL Awards Show in Toronto in June.

"I don't think he would be in the public eye with something like a relationship. He is not looking for that. He is not looking to be on the cover of 'US Weekly.' "

Roethlisberger appears intent on staking claim to a Steelers leadership role.

New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said the team will allow Roethlisberger input into its offensive scheme. Recently, Roethlisberger praised new coach Mike Tomlin's plan to favor passing as much as the running game that became the hallmark of previous coaches Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll.

Also, Roethlisberger has talked freely about wanting to win more Super Bowls than any quarterback in NFL history -- five to be specific, one more than former Steelers' great Terry Bradshaw.

Crosby, already discussed in the same company of Hall-of-Famers Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, will grace the cover of just about every hockey magazine in North America before the season starts. It is likely that his take on his dizzying teenage success will closely resemble his words to the Tribune-Review in May: "I will not judge what I have done based on that. The Stanley Cup is what I am playing for. That is what I am working for."

Regular seasoning

Ravenstahl, thrust into the national limelight with the death last year of Mayor Bob O'Connor, has met both stars. He golfed last month with Crosby at Lemieux's charity tournament and met Roethlisberger at a Penguins game before Super Bowl XL. Ravenstahl and Roethlisberger occasionally exchange text messages.

"Generally, with both Ben and Sid, we have discussed our experiences as young people that have busted onto the scene and been thrust into the spotlight," Ravenstahl said. "We have talked about how we are all on the same path. In many ways there is a lot of commonality between us. We are all growing into our leadership roles."

The future for Roethlisberger and Crosby is something even their teammates are eager to witness.

Running back Verron Haynes, Roethlisberger's closest friend on the Steelers, said the quarterback is more mature today.

"He has become more of a professional in the way that he handles himself out in public," Haynes said. "At first, (the attention) was (overwhelming) because he was just thrown in it. But now you see he has graduated and learned to deal with it."

Whitney said Crosby is more laid back than his polished public persona indicates.

"Just because of how long he has been doing the media thing he comes off as very polished. We totally see a different kid," Whitney said. "He will make jokes and give guys a good-natured hard time. He is not afraid at all to make fun of himself, even if he is talking to a girl.

"He is a normal a guy as I have ever met."

Having Roethlisberger and Crosby around should make for some exciting times in Pittsburgh sports.

"We have something special with Sid and Ben," Derda said. "You probably have to go back to Mario Lemieux and Barry Bonds (in the early 1990s) for the last time we had this.

"Who can predict the future for both of them• But, right now, there is no doubt that Pittsburgh should grab on to both of them."

Staff writer Scott Brown contributed to this story.


Ben Roethlisberger and Sidney Crosby bring a sporting focus to Pittsburgh to rival that of the one "Magic" Johnson and Wayne Gretzky brought to Los Angeles in the late-1980s. A tale of the tape comparison between Pittsburgh's young guns:

Nickname Roethlisberger: Big Ben Crosby: The Kid

Age Roethlisberger: 25 Crosby: 20

Size Roethlisberger: 6-foot-5, 241 pounds Crosby: 5-foot-11, 200 pounds

Rookie of the Year awards Roethlisberger: 1 Crosby: 0

Athletic idol Roethlisberger: John Elway Crosby: Steve Yzerman

Championships Roethlisberger: 1 Crosby: 0

Famous teammates Roethlisberger: Jerome Bettis Crosby: Mario Lemieux

MVP awards Roethlisberger: 0 Crosby: 1

Shoe contracts Roethlisberger: Nike Crosby: Reebok

Celebrity girlfriends Roethlisberger: 2 Crosby: 0

Method of transportation Roethlisberger: Motorcycle Crosby: SUV

Music video appearances Roethlisberger: 1 Crosby: 0


Ben Roethlisberger already has appeared in national TV spots for Nike and FatHead Sport Graphics. Crosby is set to become the first NHL player to appear in a Gatorade commercial shown in the United States. A look at the endorsement deals held by Roethlisberger and Crosby:

Roethlisberger:

• Nike (national)

• ProTrade fantasy sports (national)

• Stan Kramer products (local)

• PLB Sports (local)

• Roadside Ribs (local)

Crosby:

• Reebok (global)

• Gatorade (North America)

• Pepsi and Frito-Lay (Canada)

• Timothy Horton's Coffee (Canada)

• Upper Deck (global)

• Frameworth Sports Marketing (Canada)

Sources: REP 1 Sports Group and CAA Sports LLC

 

 

 
 


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