Seahawks fans will be heartened, and perhaps a bit surprised, to learn how much Ben Roethlisberger loves Seattle.
He’s likely to find out Sunday that the feeling isn’t entirely mutual.
“I love Seattle, what a great place,” the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback said Wednesday on a teleconference call with Seattle-area media.
This could be dismissed as a clever veteran engaging in a futile attempt to curry lenience from a CenturyLink Field crowd that will try to rob him of his auditory senses Sunday afternoon.
But Roethlisberger explained: “I’m a big outdoorsman, so obviously (there’s) great fishing up there,” he said, also elaborating on the region’s appeal to indoorsmen. “ … great restaurants and stuff. I’ve been up there probably two or three times.”
He has not, however, played football here. Which makes it the only NFL city in which he hasn’t played in his 12 seasons.
Unlike his role in Super Bowl 40, when his play was unimpressive as the Steelers topped Seattle with a tough defense and powerful rushing attack, Roethlisberger now is at the heart of Pittsburgh’s success.
When Roethlisberger missed four games this season with a knee sprain, the Steelers’ passing yards were roughly halved. They were a middling 2-2 in those games. He was sidelined again, for a shorter span, with a foot sprain in Week 9 against Oakland.
Wednesday he claimed to be “as healthy as I can be at this time of year,” and while some have questioned some of Roethlisberger’s off-field behavior early in his career, there’s never been any doubt about his toughness on the field.
In fact, his development into a prolific passer and team leader have led him to become one of those rare players whose play defines him.
Asked about Roethlisberger on Wednesday, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said: “He’s Ben because he’s Ben.”
His own coach, Mike Tomlin, was even more existential with his definition. “He is who he is,” Tomlin said. “He’s one of those guys.”
Oh, one of those guys. Could you elaborate, coach?
“He’s a franchise guy; he’s a guy you can build a plan around, and we have … he’s delivered for us over the years.”
Now, he particularly delivers to Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. Brown is on pace for a third 100-plus-catch season, and Bryant is averaging 20 yards per reception.
So, who is this Ben who is Ben?
He looks bigger than he is listed (6-5, 240 pounds), and he’s more nimble than he would seem. He’s a master of the side-step evasion of the rush, and when he can’t dodge it, he seems to take root, and be nearly impossible to pull down without convening a committee of defenders.
Like Arizona’s Carson Palmer, who piloted a win over Seattle two weeks ago, Roethlisberger is a master of his offense and exploiter of the talents of his receivers.
Roethlisberger cites the benefits of so many years of experience in the league. “Maturing in an offense and in the NFL, understanding your offense, understanding defenses,” he said. “Just trying to be the best player that I can be.”
Roethlisberger won’t have time for fishing or many restaurant visits this weekend, so the sideline-to-sideline tour of CenturyLink Field will occupy most of his itinerary.
“Obviously, you hear so much about the 12th Man, how loud it is, how awesome the fans are, so I’m excited,” he said, expecting the atmosphere to be similar to that at his home, Heinz Field. “This is the NFL and you want to experience what it’s like to be around something like that.”
Seattle fans will recall a hotly disputed play in Super Bowl 40 when Roethlisberger ran a keeper near the goal line — a play that was ruled a touchdown although Seahawks fan were of a dissenting opinion.
So Ben, did you think you scored on that play?
“Absolutely,” he said, adding an implied disclaimer. “Referees are never wrong, right?”
The joke might play better in other markets. But that’s Ben being Ben.