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Steelers QB leaves legacy alone

He may have been wearing Brett Keisel’s practice jersey, but there was no mistaking Ben Roethlisberger, star of the show. He may have been wearing Brett Keisel’s practice jersey, but there was no mistaking Ben Roethlisberger, star of the show. (Mark Humphrey/Associated Press)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / February 6, 2011

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FORT WORTH — Ben Roethlisberger faced question after question during Super Bowl week: Has he changed since his four-game suspension and NFL-mandated counseling? Does he care about the public perception of him? Does he regret taking his linemen out to dinner and a piano bar during the week?

And even if Roethlisberger wins tonight — and in this country, winning can cure a lot of things — he’ll face still more questions.

Specifically: Is he truly an elite-level quarterback worthy of being considered among the all-time greats at the position?

If Pittsburgh wins Super Bowl XLV against the Packers, Roethlisberger will have his third ring — as many as Tom Brady has, and one behind standard-bearers Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.

And two more than Peyton Manning.

Now, rings aren’t always the best measure of how great a quarterback is. Dan Marino didn’t win one, and it’s tough to argue that he wasn’t stellar. Conversely, Trent Dilfer did, and he won’t get much consideration for Canton.

But to do it more than once is special. There are 10 quarterbacks with multiple rings, with Roethlisberger and Brady still active. Of the other eight, only Jim Plunkett, who led the Raiders to two titles in the 1980s, is not in the Hall of Fame.

The thought of being mentioned in the same breath as Bradshaw (a Pittsburgh legend) and Brady gives Roethlisberger pause.

“That’s unbelievable company,’’ he said. “I don’t put myself there; I think they are too good. I hate sitting there answering those questions because it’s assuming we win, you know? That’s why I don’t want to think about it yet.’’

Roethlisberger will freely admit that unlike Manning, Brady, or Drew Brees, he’ll never win any passing titles; Pittsburgh has long been considered a power-running team, and in his seven-year career, Roethlisberger has recorded just 15 300-plus-yard passing games.

Three of them came in 12 regular-season starts this year, with Pittsburgh winning two of those 300-yard games. The loss was against New England, when Roethlisberger threw for nearly 300 yards in the second half alone as the Steelers were playing catch-up.

“I don’t know if the Steelers will ever go to that kind of [pass-oriented] system,’’ said Roethlisberger. “I think they’ve been doing it for such a long time and they find ways to win doing it the way they do it.

“You’re asking a quarterback if he wants to throw the ball more — of course we do. We always want to throw the ball more. But for me it’s about winning football games, and however you can do that, that’s what I want to do.’’

Roethlisberger is considered more of a game manager. In the win against the Jets two weeks ago that set up the date with the Packers, he was just 10 of 19 for 133 yards and two interceptions. But thanks to 121 rushing yards by Rashard Mendenhall and a fumble returned for a touchdown by William Gay, he wasn’t called on to do a lot of heavy lifting.

But when the Steelers faced third and 6 late in the game to ice the win, Roethlisberger was able to scramble out of the pocket and find Antonio Brown for a 14-yard gain, allowing Pittsburgh to run out the clock.

When Pittsburgh needed to score late in Super Bowl XLIII against Arizona two years ago, Roethlisberger’s perfectly placed sideline pass in the end zone could be pulled in only by Santonio Holmes. Holmes got his toes down inbounds, and the Steelers went on to win.

In that game, Roethlisberger easily could have been named MVP, though Holmes earned it after his eye-popping reception in the final minute.

To a Patriots fan, a lot of that sounds familiar. As the Patriots won their three Super Bowls, Brady was also considered more of a game manager than the prolific passer he was in recent seasons.

In New England’s win over St. Louis in 2001, he threw for just 145 yards. When his team needed him most, however, in the closing moments of a tie game, he led the offense into field goal range and set up one of the most exhilarating finishes in the history of the game.

“Ben’s a winner, and that’s the bottom line,’’ said Pittsburgh director of football operations Kevin Colbert. “He may be 15 of 21 for 180 yards, but he is making two plays that win the game.

“You always have to judge a quarterback on whether they are winners or not. Ben’s a winner. Even if he statistically doesn’t match up, did we win the game?

“There are going to be games where he doesn’t. There might be games where he might be 30 for 42 and 400 yards, and we don’t win, and that is not what we want.’’

So is winning the only statistic that matters?

To Roethlisberger, it is.

“My definition of an elite quarterback is one that wins football games,’’ he said.

Which is why, at the end of this season that began with such personal turmoil for the 28-year-old Ohio native, he could still be facing questions.

Roethlisberger said he’ll consider whether or not he belongs in the Brady-Bradshaw stratosphere only if Pittsburgh wins.

His most reliable receiver has already given it some thought.

“At the end of the day, you still have to play the game,’’ said Hines Ward. “You may not see Ben up there statistically with all the other quarterbacks in the league, but you can’t knock what he’s done.

“If Ben was to retire after this game, just looking at his record, his record speaks for itself and there’s a lot of quarterbacks out there who’d love to be in the position he’s in. To win his third Super Bowl under, what, 28, 29 years old?

“That’s a remarkable feat.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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