Sat, Jan 24, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Facing ex-boss, Big Ben seeks big game

AP , PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA

Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates their 23-14 win against the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC Championship game on Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

PHOTO: AFP

Ben Roethlisberger didn’t consider Ken Whisenhunt to be a whiz when the two worked together on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense.

They won a Super Bowl together three years ago, Roethlisberger as the still-inexperienced quarterback and Whisenhunt as the offensive coordinator who mentored him. But their relationship was about as smooth as Heinz Field’s bumpy playing field.

That became evident after Whisenhunt left in January 2007 to become the Arizona Cardinals coach, not waiting to see if he would succeed Bill Cowher as Pittsburgh’s coach.

What is uncertain as their paths cross again in the Super Bowl, this time on opposing sides, is whether Roethlisberger’s feelings influenced the Steelers not to hire Whisenhunt as Cowher’s replacement. Or if Whisenhunt preferred going to a less-successful team to prove himself as a head coach, escaping the better-win-now mentality of Pittsburgh and a quarterback who wanted to work with someone else.

So far, Roethlisberger isn’t saying anything that might stir up the Steelers’ Super Bowl opponent, or its boss.

“It just makes it fun to play them and see them across the field,” Roethlisberger said of Whisenhunt, assistant coach Russ Grimm and the other former Steelers coaches on Arizona’s staff. “Coach Whis is a great coach.”

Roethlisberger wasn’t that complimentary two years ago, when Whisenhunt said the quarterback’s June 2006 motorcycle crash may have contributed to his down season that year. Partly because of Roethlisberger’s struggles, the Steelers started 2-6 after winning the Super Bowl and missed the playoffs.

Whisenhunt’s comments seemed innocuous — it was evident Roethlisberger wasn’t the player in 2006 he was during the Super Bowl year — but they apparently touched a nerve with a player known for his competitiveness.

“I don’t agree with Whis. There were a lot of things I didn’t agree with Whis about, and that’s another one,” Roethlisberger said at the time. “I had a bad year. I’m sure Whis had a bad year once in his career.”

Before the Steelers and Cardinals played early in the 2007 season, Roethlisberger said he felt restrained in a Whisenhunt-coached offense that he felt limited his passing attempts, especially his downfield throwing.

If Roethlisberger wants to get back at a former coach he believes held him back, here’s his chance.

Roethlisberger didn’t have nearly the season statistically as he did in 2007 — 32 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions then, compared to 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions now — yet he could join New England’s Tom Brady as one of only two quarterbacks to win two Super Bowls by the age of 26.

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