By Matthew Marczi
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went under the knife on Wednesday, having an arthroscopic procedure performed on his right knee to clean up some meniscus damage that had been causing him slight discomfort during the offseason.
In a statement issued by head coach Mike Tomlin, Roethlisberger was advised by the team to get the surgery done now to, in the coach’s own words, “ensure he will be completely healthy for the start of training camp”. He added confidently that the surgery “will have no long-term effects on his health”.
So that’s all there is to it. Roethlisberger had the operation done, and he now has plenty of time to recuperate to get ready for the start of training camp in late July. He will work his way back into rhythm and into shape during training camp and will be good as new come week one of the regular season. Right?
The truth of the matter is most likely described as above in the previous paragraph, or fairly close to it in any event. It is also equally true that certain media outlets will probably utilize this news to generate stories with titles such as “Should the Steelers be Concerned about the Health of Big Ben” and “Will Roethlisberger be Ready to Play”. It is the type of story that attracts clicks and viewers.
Nearly every year recently, there has been a largely media-driven so-called ‘distraction’ during the Steelers’ offseason. Last year, of course, it was whether or not Roethlisberger had called the newly named offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, yet, and after they finally confirmed publicly that they spoke, the media waited patiently week after week for the inevitable eruption.
The whole issue is and should be a non-story. That is, of course, as long as Roethlisberger is able to round himself into football shape both physically and mentally during the preseason.
Big Ben does not have the greatest track record when coming back or playing through injury. Notable examples include two game-sealing interceptions late last season and his terrible performance on a bad ankle against the San Francisco 49ers in 2011.
As has been widely referenced in reports on Roethlisberger’s surgery today, the tenth-year veteran has experience in this field already, having undergone a similar procedure in the middle of his first championship run in 2005.
That time, it cost him three games, and he struggled playing his way into form. The Steelers lost his first two games back as he combined for five interceptions. The first game in particular was poor, throwing for just 133 yards and one touchdown, the team’s only points that day.
The following week, he threw for nearly 400 yards and three touchdowns, but it was his turnovers that doomed them that day. Two of his interceptions occurred in Steelers territory and led to touchdown drives in a game that they lost 38-31. It should be noted that this was against the Cincinnati Bengals bottom-ten defense of 2005.
While Roethlisberger is fully expected to be ready for training camp, it will be important for him to regain his form, physically and mentally, during the preseason coming off even the minor surgery as it is described.
Because we all know well enough that if Roethlisberger shows any signs of rust or looks slow in any way, the media will be talking about that knee, and that talk will lead back to the discussion about how many hits he’s taken over the years and how much longer he has to play.
The last thing the Steelers need coming off of an 8-8 season is another distraction, and while I don’t expect this to turn into one, I do see the potential for the media to circle the wagons.
Remember also that surgeries can be tricky things. While Roethlisberger’s surgery cannot be fairly compared to the procedure that James Harrison underwent last offseason, it was a slow and tedious process for him to get back into form that lasted throughout the season. There is a reason that the phrase “there’s no such thing as minor surgery” gets bandied about so frequently.