By Joe Starkey, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Ben Roethlisberger often wins on his worst days. He also has the best definition of quarterback toughness I've heard, one sure to send stats geeks running to their hard drives to see if it fits into one of their unfathomable formulas.
We broach the topic because it's that time of year — time for everybody to rank the quarterbacks. I don't know if Roethlisberger deserves to be ranked first, but I know this: He belongs in the conversation.
He agrees, as he should.
"I think every quarterback should believe they're the best," Roethlisberger said. "Do I think there are better quarterbacks than me? Possibly. But would I take anyone else with the ball in their hands at the end of the game? I don't think so."
This is where somebody fires off an email reminding me that Roethlisberger didn't get it done late in last year's Super Bowl.
OK, so that makes him 1 for 2 in epic Super Bowl-winning drives.
Numbers freaks are flummoxed on how to measure a quarterback because the statistics lie like winos.
Super Bowl titles? If that's your primary measurement, you must believe Mark Rypien was better than Dan Marino.
Passer rating? Tony Romo tops Tom Brady and Joe Montana.
Accuracy? Chad Pennington is the most accurate passer of all-time.
Won-loss record? Getting warmer. Roethlisberger is 69-29 in his career. Which brings us to his definition of toughness. He was sitting at a quarterbacks' round table a few years ago, with Sport Illustrated's Peter King, when he delivered the following gem:
"Toughness is playing the worst game of your life but not backing down. Down 21 points and the defense is getting through, and you throw three interceptions. Staying in that game, keeping your head up, trying to drive your team when everything's going wrong — that's the kind of toughness I want in my quarterback."
I think of last year's game at Baltimore, when Roethlisberger — having a miserable night with a banged-up foot and broken nose — was presented with an opportunity to win and snatched it. His biggest play was fending off Terrell Suggs and shoveling the ball out of bounds to avoid a sack.
Is there a stat for that?
I think of last year's AFC title game, when Roethlisberger rolled away from pressure and drilled a dart on the run, into the arms of Antonio Brown, to keep a hot Jets offense off the field for good.
Yes, the stat junkie will say, but if he'd made more plays earlier, it wouldn't have come to that.
Yes, I respond, but there was another team on the field — one that had humiliated St. Thomas Brady a week earlier — and when it boiled down to Super Bowl or no Super Bowl, Roethlisberger beat that team with a brilliant individual play.
I also think of Super Bowl XL, a game the stat mongers look at and see only Roethlisberger's minuscule passer rating. He wasn't good. But even on his worst day, he made winning plays. He set up the first touchdown with an ad-lib bomb to Hines Ward, threw a key block on the gadget-play TD and turned a busted play into a scramble first down when the Steelers were attempting to kill the clock.
Is there a stat for that?
I'm beginning to loathe the statistical revolution that has engulfed the sports world. When did everybody become Billy Beane?
Beane is the Oakland A's general manager made famous in the book "Moneyball" for coldly analyzing players on raw numbers alone. He also is the all-time leader in at least one obscure statistical category: Best GM Who Never Got To A World Series But Still Had Brad Pitt Play Him In A Movie.
Don't get me wrong. I love the numbers game. You're talking to a man who, at age 9, invented his own ratings system for offensive linemen and kept track of assists in Nerf basketball games.
The problem is that statistical devotees have forgotten the human element. They disregard the notion that an athlete -- whether it's a quarterback, pitcher or point guard -- can separate himself from his peers by consistently summoning the right stuff at just the right time.
Sports still is about winning, right?