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Steelers QB Roethlisberger, citing ‘inner peace,’ changes his delivery on the fly

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By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / February 1, 2011

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DALLAS — Ben Roethlisberger is a changed man. Or, at the least, he’s trying really hard to make you believe that.

The Super Bowl is known for strange player-media interactions, but the session the Steelers quarterback had yesterday was definitely unique. Not for what was said — Roethlisberger wasn’t revealing — but for how it was delivered.

Every question was greeted with an open and accommodating look. Every answer was punctuated with a big smile, a nod of the head, and a wrinkle of the nose. All that was missing was a cute puppy sitting on the quarterback’s lap.

Roethlisberger had never been overly surly with the media. But what was on display at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel was certainly a departure.

It was as if Roethlisberger had entered some sort of Stepford quarterback intervention program and come out the other side with a new lease on life.

He had, in a sense. So he said.

“It’s just . . . Inner peace is a great thing when you have it,’’ Roethlisberger said. “If you know what it is, I think you would understand where I’m coming from.’’

Just six months ago, Roethlisberger’s life was a raging storm.

Five months after helping the Steelers win a second Lombardi Trophy capping the 2008 season, a woman in Nevada filed a civil suit alleging Roethlisberger raped her the previous summer.

Last March, a 20-year-old female college student filed a sexual assault complaint against him in Milledgeville, Ga.

Six weeks later, Georgia district attorney Fred Bright announced his office would not be filing charges against Roethlisberger. But Bright had some stern advice for Roethlisberger.

“If he were my son, [my thoughts would be], ‘Ben, grow up. Come on, you’re supposed to stand for something. I mean, you’re the leader. You should be a role model. You don’t need to put yourself in this position anymore,’ ’’ Bright said.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for six games (it was later reduced to four).

“You are held to a higher standard as an NFL player,’’ Goodell wrote in a letter to Roethlisberger. “There is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.’’

Reports soon surfaced in Pittsburgh that Roethlisberger, even before the Milledgeville incident, had gone from good guy to louse. There were tales of him rudely refusing to sign autographs to surly interactions with local restaurant and bar workers.

Roethlisberger had so fallen out of favor in Pittsburgh there were reports the Steelers had discussed trading him.

As if he had an alternative, Roethlisberger acknowledged he had gone down a wrong path because he let his fame go to his head and it was time to get it righted.

“I’ll be the first to admit it,’’ he said. “I did get caught up in it. But that’s not who I am and that’s not who I was raised to be, so we had to make some changes.’’

Roethlisberger stood before the masses yesterday and tried to show he has changed. But he did not want to talk much about the past.

“You guys probably just think I’m telling you this but honestly, I don’t think the time . . . usually when you reflect on something you think back because something’s over,’’ Roethlisberger said. “It’s just not the time for me to do it.’’

He did talk about “getting back to my faith’’ and family. Roethlisberger said his father Ken, a local pastor, and former Steelers fullback Merril Hoge have counseled him on his road to redemption, not to mention his new outlook on life.

“I think it has to do with a lot of things, a lot of praying and talking to the Lord and saying thank you for the opportunity that I get to play in this game and get back to the Super Bowl,’’ Roethlisberger said.

He still has a long way to go with the public, and Goodell.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King reported a quote yesterday from Goodell about his decision to suspend Roethlisberger.

“[The NFL talked to] I bet two dozen [Steeler] players . . . Not one, not a single player, went to his defense,’’ Goodell was quoted as saying. “It wasn’t personal in a sense, but all kinds of stories like, ‘He won’t sign my jersey.’ ’’

Roethlisberger did not agree with Goodell’s thoughts on the matter.

“Well, I know for a fact that when the commissioner came to training camp to talk, a lot of the guys kind of did [come to my defense],’’ he said. “I’m just thankful that my teammates are who they are and I’m really appreciative of it.’’

When judging a player as a man, usually teammates are the best judge of character because of the time they spend together. Although Goodell’s quotes didn’t reflect well, the sudden defense of Roethlisberger yesterday did.

“I wasn’t a part of that so I don’t know,’’ receiver Hines Ward said. “All the recognition that I’ve gotten, guys supported Ben. They didn’t understand why he would be suspended.’’

End Brett Keisel backed up Ward’s words, as did linebacker James Farrior.

“When Roger Goodell came to us in the preseason, I think I was the guy that asked him a lot of the questions about Ben,’’ Farrior said. “I was pretty upset about it. I really didn’t get any answers from him that I was looking for, but I was definitely disappointed in what the verdict was and how they proceeded. I definitely didn’t think he should be suspended for four games.’’

The Steelers have gone 11-3 since Roethlisberger emerged from his suspension and his play has helped them to another Super Bowl appearance.

That’s on the field. Roethlisberger, who recently became engaged to be married, said he’s trying to win off the field as well.

“I want to be a role model,’’ Roethlisberger said. “I want people to look up to me. I like when kids wear my jersey and stuff. [It’s] just how awesome having an inner peace in life can be.’’

Words and smiles are one thing. Roethlisberger will be judged by his actions from this point forward. Off the field, just as much as on it.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard.

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