Safe to say, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's life and certainly his career hit rock-bottom last spring with the aftermath of his night in Georgia at a Milledgeville bar.
He was never charged legally but that means he wasn't punished for his lapse in judgment.
He was guilty in the court of public opinion. Reviled in Pittsburgh of all places where football trumps the other professional and college sports in the city. The face of the franchise was knocked down a few notches and potentially could have been traded away if the right team in the top 10 of the 2010 NFL Draft had pulled the trigger. Imagine the Steelers with St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford at the helm. We would be watching the Jets in the Super Bowl, that could have happened if the Rams had pursued reports that the Steelers were willing to trade their franchise quarterback. Thankfully, for both Roethlisberger and the Steelers, emotions didn't get the best of them... patience did.
After the spring, Roethlisberger was smart and stayed out of the public eye, only making an appearance at a charity golf event. Then he had a league-imposed stay away from the Steelers for the first quarter of the season which looks to have motivated the defense. The Steelers went 3-1 with a third- and fourth-string quarterback, Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch. Few other teams could do that, credit the Steelers for thinking ahead in the off-season knowing a suspension was looming and for acquiring quality backup help through free agency, trades and the draft.
Now, Roethlisberger, appearing to be a changed teammate, leader and person has a chance to go from public embarrassment to public glory and a third Super Bowl championship. He's already been welcomed back by the fans-- I didn't notice anyone booing when he ran for a touchdown in the AFC Championship game or threw a long third-down conversion to set up the winning touchdown in the AFC Divisional Round. I'm not surprised, there have been many athletes that have broken the law, cheated the game with steroids or other aspects and yet fans have to proven to overlook that if they can throw a 50-yard fly pattern on target, or dunk a basketball or hit a baseball 421 feet into straightaway center field. It's no different here.
Even if the Steelers lose Sunday, Roethlisberger can still call this a successful season, if for nothing else, he has a semi-repaired image back. Is it totally repaired? It's close. He's had to make adjustments and sacrifices. Reaching out to teammates. Time and continual good deeds will get that back. In an off-season (of unknown length) full of uncertainly with the NFL's current labor situation, Roethlisberger will have to learn how to handle success again. I think this time, things will be different.