Winning is a team statistic.
Although quarterbacks often shoulder the load of wins and losses, fairly or unfairly, they are not the sole reason for the outcome. Football is considered by many, particularly in the United States, as the world's greatest team sport. Each play has 22 working pieces on the field, 11 on offense and 11 on defense. Everything must work in cohesion for one side of the football to be successful.
Nor is individual greatness defined by the same juvenile argument often made by children on the playground spouting "scoreboard," which is the equivilant of merely stating Super Bowl victories as the end-all-be-all. It goes much deeper.
It's with this premise in mind that one cannot consider Ben Roethlisberger amidst the truly greats at the position whether or not the Steelers are able to capture the franchise's seventh Lombardi Trophy, and the third of his career, Sunday in Dallas. At least, it cannot yet be done based off of his previous body of work.
Let's take a look at the previous two Super Bowl victories and the rings for which Roethlisberger currently sports.
On Feb. 5 2006, Pittsburgh defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in Super Bowl XL.
It was Roethlisberger's second season in the NFL. He was aided by the second rated defense in the league which surrendered 276.8 yards per game in the regular season. The team was also fifth in rushing during said season averaging 138.6 yards per game. The quarterback was still developing, and the gameplan did not revolve around his abilities.
In four postseason games, Roethlisberger averaged just over 200 yards per game (803 yards). It was a hair better than his seasonal average of 198.8 yards per game passing. For comparison's sake - Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers has nearly achieved the same amount of passing yardage this postseason (790 yards) without yet playing in the final leg of the playoffs.
Furthermore, one tell-tale statistic warrants Roethlisberger as a mere cog that season instead of the man who stirs the drink. His effort in Super Bowl XL still ranks as the worst quarterback passing rating (22.6) in any previous or future Super Bowl performances at the position. The big plays from his first Super Bowl victory came from the legs of running back Willie Parker and the arm of wide receiver Antwaan Randle-El. Hines Ward was named the game's most valuable player.
In an interesting twist of fate, the quarterback's performance against the Jets two weeks ago was his second worst rating in the playoffs. Yet the Steelers have won all three contests in which Roethlisberger has played his worst statistically during the second season.
On Feb. 1 2009, the Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII.
Roethlisberger was coming off his second least-efficient season of his career. His completion percentage dipped under 60. He had thrown only two more touchdowns passes than interceptions during the regular season. Despite his play, Pittsburgh posted a 12-4 record. The team was aided predominantly by a defense that ranked first overall in the NFL giving up a mere 237.2 yards per game. The unit was first in passing defense. It was second in rushing defense. It was one of the best units ever to take the field, and outside linebacker James Harrison was awarded the Defensive Player of the Year.
Roethlisberger improved his passing output by 24 yards per game in the playoffs. Then again only a rookie from Baltimore, Joe Flacco, posted a lower average playing in two or more playoff games that season.
To his credit, the Steelers' signal caller saved his best for last. With 2:37 remaining in the Super Bowl, trailing by a score, Roethlisberger orchestrated one of the best comeback drives in NFL history. He was five-of-seven during the drive eventually finding Santonio Holmes in the right corner of the endzone. Holmes made what will go down in the annuls of the NFL as one of the greatest catches in history and was awarded the game's most valuable player.
Pittsburgh would not have been in the position if not for a singular play which swung the entire momentum of the game. Harrison's 100-yard rumble after a goalline interception, just prior to halftime, gave the Steelers control of the contest. Arizona appeared to have everything going its way, but Harrison proved to be the game changer.
These are but two examples against Roethlisberger in his two biggest games.
His regular season statistics simply do not match up to those who are in the same conversation. Names such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Steve Young, Dan Marino and even Drew Brees dwarf his regular season production. The group, along with a few unmentioned older quarterbacks, simply play or played the game at a higher level from a mental and efficiency aspect.
This is not to take away from what Big Ben is. He may be the best pure playmaker and closer in the game today. He is a headache for defenses with his combination of toughness, mobility, and the cannon attached to his shoulder. He simply isn't the best overall despite the jewelry and any claims to the contrary.
Lombardi trophies do not automatically equate to greatness. Ask Terry Bradshaw and his career 51.9 completion percentage, 212/210 touchdown to interception ratio, and 70.9 career quarterback rating.
Trent Dilfer was not a great quarterback during his time in the NFL, but he has one more ring than Marino. Doug Legursky may start at center for the Steelers in this year's Super Bowl and, if they win, it doesn't even make him the best at his position on his team.
Winning a championship is a group effort. All should be included in the conversation.
With Roethlisberger's previous track record, even if he posts a phenomenal game Sunday against Green Bay, he then enters the cusp of the conversation. His career to date is a far cry from topping the list of all time greats, particularly when he wasn't even the best player on the field in his team's previous efforts.
(Sobleski, a Cadiz resident, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)