NFL

Roethlisberger on pace for Canton

Sports Xchange LEN PASQUARELLI
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This is strictly cart-before-the-horse stuff, because Ben Roethlisberger must still divine a way to do something two of his more famous contemporaries could not the past two weeks, and defeat Coach Blowhard and the New York Jets, before meriting an invitation to Super Bowl XLV.

But, just for the sake of argument, let's say that Roethlisberger emerges victorious on Sunday evening in the AFC Championship Game. And then, moving the hypothesis forward another giant step, that Roethlisberger exits Cowboys Stadium on the night of Feb. 6 with his hands around a third Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Notwithstanding the unknown degree of his dalliance in Milledgeville, Ga., that earned him a four-game suspension at the outset of this season — and the Hall of Fame bylaws, which arrived by FedEx the other day, reminded that selectors are not to contemplate any such off-field indiscretions, either alleged or proven — does a third Super Bowl victory earn Roethlisberger a bust in the Canton, Ohio, shrine?

Given that Roethlisberger is merely 28-years-old, and by even conservative metrics, still likely has another seven or so productive seasons to compile his resume, it's a debate that won't bubble up until this selector is well into further dotage. The same bylaws dictate, after all, a player must be retired for at least five years until his accomplishments can be considered, and that probably puts us around 2023 or so until any esteemed Hall of Fame board can discuss Roethlisberger's career.

Even my estimable Hall of Fame colleague and longtime good friend, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the city's representative on the August HOF board of selectors, won't have to fret about preparing the presentation argument.

Then again, how much of an argument would it really be?

You wouldn't have to have Iron City beer flowing through your veins, or have a Terrible Towel atop the mantel, to make a pretty convincing case.

A third Super Bowl title — go ahead, dream a little bit, fellow 'Burgh natives — would catapult Roethlisberger into elite company.

Very elite, if, indeed, there can be those kinds of super-lofty categories.

After his first Super Bowl victory a year ago, Drew Brees of New Orleans noted that he hoped to add to his championship bounty, but acknowledged: "I'm not sure that anything will ever top this." Imagine winning three of the things. It never gets old and, to the contrary, it makes your memory and your legacy forever young.

Not counting the late George Blanda, who was relegated to beloved clutch kicker late in his career — and who many fans forget once threw a football, not booted it, for a living — there are 17 modern-era quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame. All but six of them own at least one Super Bowl ring. Only three quarterbacks from the Super Bowl Era — Dan Fouts, Sonny Jurgensen and Warren Moon — never started in the championship game. The 11 modern-day quarterbacks enshrined in Canton, have an aggregate 23 Super Bowl titles.

"It's certainly not (a prerequisite), but it kind of validates you," said Dan Marino, who, ironically, does not have a Super Bowl ring.

Only one quarterback with multiple Super Bowl-winning starts, Jim Plunkett of the Raiders, is not in the Hall of Fame.

Were Roethlisberger to win a third, just two other quarterbacks with strong ties to Western Pennsylvania, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, would have more. And isn't the old football saw that the only statistic that really matters for a quarterback is the number of championships he wins?

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The intriguing thing about Roethlisberger, who had to rebuild a whole lot more than just his throwing motion (as a recent newspaper article detailed) during a long and trying offseason, is that despite playing the game's most conspicuous position, he isn't even the face of one of the NFL's most storied franchises. He'd require about another foot's worth of hair hanging out the back of his helmet to rate that status. Which pretty much pigeonholes him in the same niche Bradshaw once occupied.

And, his statistics aside, Roethlisberger is rarely mentioned with, say, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, as one of the NFL's great passers. But he has ranked among the top five passers, in terms of quarterback rating, in five of seven seasons. And he already owns twice as many Super Bowl rings as Manning and is just one shy of Brady.

The consensus is that Brady, who hasn't exactly distinguished himself in postseason play with his playoff performances the past two seasons, could retire now and waltz into the Hall of Fame. But Brady hasn't won a Super Bowl title since the '04 season. And Big Ben could yet claim a third championship in the six seasons since then.

Roethlisberger is only 28, or two years younger than Bradshaw was when he won his third Super Bowl. He's also five years younger than Brady, the presumptive Hall-of-Fame shoo-in. Roethlisberger is 9-2 in the playoffs, two more postseason victories than the combined total of the three other quarterbacks still playing. And as has been well documented by my hometown media in recent days, his teammates believe in him even more than ever at this time of year.

In a recent column by another 'Burgh-buddy, Ron Cook, Roethlisberger suggested he still has "a lot of fingers left" for more Super Bowl rings. Adding another Super Bowl trinket to the collection, we're guessing, will pretty much earn Roethlisberger a Hall of Fame bust.

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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