“It’s nice to go through a practice, go through a game, do things around the house, pick things up, dry your hair off with a towel, and not feel that pain.” — Ben.
From Sam Farmer, L.A. Times:
For the past few years, uncertainty has swirled around Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. With two Super Bowl rings, and having built a solid case for the Hall of Fame, he routinely has flirted with retirement.
But after his 2019 season was cut short by a serious elbow injury, the type that would end most careers, Roethlisberger has roared back with relentless determination.
“I just didn’t feel like I was done,” Roethlisberger, 38, told The Times by phone this week. “It would have been a lot easier to hang it up. But I just really felt like I had something left. I really want to win another Super Bowl, and have my kids be out there to appreciate it with me.”
He said the biggest driving factor was the team, and specifically the outstanding offensive line and defense the Steelers have built. Pittsburgh, which plays host to the Houston Texans on Sunday, is 2-0 with victories over the New York Giants and Denver Broncos.
“I told the guys before the first game, `I didn’t have to have the surgery. I chose to have it because of you guys, because of the team,’” he said.
That surgery was to reconnect flexor tendons in his throwing arm, which had weakened over the course of his career and finally ruptured when he was throwing against Seattle in Week 2 last season. Famous for his toughness and high pain threshold, Roethlisberger first shook his hand as if to wake it up, then looked like a wounded animal as he clutched his arm and wincingly walked off the field.
Done for the season.
There are five flexor tendons that run down the underside of the forearm, from the elbow to the hand, and they are integral to moving the fingers and grip, as well as bending and turning the wrist. In Roethlisberger’s case, three of the five tendons tore loose from the bone.
Dr. Neal ElAttrache, world-renowned orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute, rebuilt his elbow and — along with Steelers doctor James Bradley — helped oversee the quarterback’s tenuous, year-long recovery.
“What the injury and recovery did was it turned the clock back on Ben’s competitive attitude,” said ElAttrache, team physician for the Rams and Dodgers. “That was the biggest thing. He was going to will this to happen. Failure was not anywhere in his mind.”
Roethlisberger’s journey is chronicled in a four-part YouTube series called “Bigger Than Ben,” which goes behind the scenes with the quarterback — along with his wife, Ashley, and their children — and shows the patience and persistence required to overcome a major injury, especially in the twilight of a player’s career.
“We certainly couldn’t afford any setback,” said Ryan Tollner, Roethlisberger’s agent. “The critical part of it was that he could not rush back and risk pulling off those anchors. That would have been devastating. It would be the end.”
There were some scares. At least twice, Roethlisberger feared he disrupted his recovery, once while climbing a ladder into a deer stand, and another time when trick-or-treating with his kids.
“It was Halloween and I was sitting in the driver’s seat of my wife’s Suburban,” Roethlisberger explained. “I was carrying the candy at the end of the night, and I went to reach back to set the bucket on the floor between the seats. It wasn’t like it was heavy. I reached back and kind of felt this twinge in my elbow.
“My wife saw my face and was like, ‘What happened?’ I told her, but I didn’t want to startle the kids. We basically went home, put the kids to bed, and FaceTimed Neal as soon as we could.”
The triumphs were small and required patience. All the while, Roethlisberger allowed his beard to grow. He vowed not to shave until he could throw an NFL pass. After a few months, his face looked like an overgrown Chia Pet.
“I remember the steps of him saying, ‘Hey, I can grab the milk carton, a gallon of milk. I can hold that pretty easily,’ ” Tollner said. “Or, he’s an avid hunter, so he wanted to be able to pull his bow back, that type of stuff.”
The first time Roethlisberger threw a football again was Feb. 21 in Los Angeles, and ElAttrache was on the receiving end.
“It was a stupid little pass down in physical therapy,” the doctor said. “And he tossed it to me. I said, ‘Listen, I want to be the first one to catch a ball.’ For a guy like Ben who’s been to the Super Bowl and has been as good as it gets in competition, to do that may have sounded silly. But he even seemed happy.”
You can read the rest of Mr. Farmer’s article here.