History in the making

MIKE ZEISBERGER, in Pittsburgh

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

With each passing day that Ben Roethlisberger strolls into the Pittsburgh Steelers offices alongside the frigid waters of the Monongahela River, he is reminded of what awaits should he lead his team to just two more victories. As he walks down the hallway, Big Ben's eyes can't help but focus on the nearby display case, where a thin pane of glass separates him from four Super Bowl trophies, sparkling tributes of this franchise's glorious history.

Roethlisberger, 22, finds himself in the spotlight as the Steelers drive for five. He is attempting to follow in the footsteps of Terry Bradshaw, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount and the rest of the 1970s Steelers dynasty that captured four championships in five years.

Twenty-five years after the Steelers most-recent Super Bowl triumph, Blount was at practice yesterday, watching this year's Steelers go through their final on-field workouts in preparation for tomorrow's AFC championship game at Heinz Field against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers-crazed city in which all the fire hydrants are painted black and gold, you just can't escape the past. They won't let you.

That's just the way Roethlisberger likes it.

"Every time you turn on ESPN Classics, there are those 1970s Steelers winning another title," he said yesterday.

But just as he savours history, Roethlisberger finds himself fighting it, too.

No rookie quarterback has led a team to a Super Bowl crown, a trend this town figured Ben Ben might buck this year.

But a sub-par performance in a 20-17 overtime victory over the New York Jets one week ago has led to a number of questions here in Steeltown. Oh, the Terrible Towel-waving fanatics still love him as much as ever here, but there are doubts.

Is his inexperience beginning to show?

Has the clock struck midnight on his Cinderella freshman campaign, one in which he has won his first 15 starts?

And, most importantly, can he beat Bill Belichick, arguably the NFL's best football mind, twice in the same season?

"Just more things that add fuel to the fire and motivate me," Roethlisberger said. "But I still must stay within the system and rely on our running game."

Then, wearing a wide grin, he made a prediction.

"I'm not going to play as bad as I did last weekend," he said, referring to his two-interception performance against the Jets.

Unfortunately for Big Ben and company, that is not Chad Pennington lining up behind centre for the opposing team.

No, the man taking the snaps for the visitors tomorrow will be Tom Brady, one of the best post-season performers in NFL history. The two-time Super Bowl MVP is a perfect 7-0 in the playoffs and is looking to up that mark.

"Listen,Tom Brady is in a situation a lot of quarterbacks want to be in, winning Super Bowls and MVPs," Roethlisberger said. "He might not be the most talented quarterback in the league but he finds ways to win.

WINNING STYLE

"I want to emulate his winning style."

Brady and Roethlisberger are different in many ways.

Brady is romantically linked to supermodels and rubs elbows with the stars.

Roethlisberger, meanwhile, spends a lot of his off-time at his apartment watching TV or playing with his new dog. When he does go out, it often is to a low-key watering hole in south Pittsburgh where a brew goes for just $2 US.

The common thread?

"Hard work," Brady said yesterday. "When your teammates see you do that, they see past all that other crap."

With that, the scene is set for tomorrow.

One quarterback, Roethlisberger, who has never lost an NFL start.

Another, Brady, who has never lost an NFL post-season start.

By tomorrow night one of them will have made NFL history and the other will be history.


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