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Steelers’ Roethlisberger back from the brink

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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during mini camp on the south side June 12, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws during mini camp on the south side June 12, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during mini camp on the south side June 12, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws during mini camp on the south side June 12, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during mini camp on the south side June 12, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
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Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey snaps to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during mini camp on the south side June 12, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws during mini camp on the south side June 12, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hands off during mini camp on the south side June 12, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws during mini camp on the south side June 12, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Making the cover of Sports Illustrated is usually reserved for athletes at or near the pinnacle of their sport.

For Ben Roethlisberger, it proved to be the instance he hit rock bottom.

The cover depicting an unshaven Roethlisberger entitled, “The Hangover: Ben Roethlisberger — An NFL superstar’s repulsive behavior, the ultimate expression of athletic entitlement run amok, has forced even the most diehard fans to question their team and their football faith,” hit news stands two weeks after Roethlisberger was suspended six games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for repeated boorish behavior.

Two sexual assault accusations in an eight-month span along with stories of a combative and entitled Roethlisberger in public were synonymous with the Steelers’ $100 million quarterback.

Fast-forward two years, and the stories about Roethlisberger are still there, but have a less abrasive context.

“I don’t think there is anything better than having your family on the field with you holding that trophy and confetti falling,” Roethlisberger said after practice Tuesday about his soon-to-be-born son.

A lot has changed in Roethlisberger’s life over the past 26 months. He’s gotten married, been awarded his undergraduate degree at Miami (Ohio) and now is expecting his first kid at the end of the year.

And maybe more importantly, Roethlisberger, 30, has turned his life around.

“Just from when I met him to now, it has been a total 180,” guard and good friend Willie Colon said. “I am extremely proud of him, and I am glad where he is at.”

Colon feels it is time Roethlisberger gets credit for how he has come back from the brink of self-destruction and transformed himself into a humble, family-first guy.

“People love to talk about when you are down and doing wrong,” Colon said. “But they don’t say anything when you are a married man, not cheating on your wife, having a kid, being an example in the community — they don’t want to talk about that. When you are on the straight and narrow, getting your life together and doing the right things, nobody wants to talk about you.”

Roethlisberger has kept his name out of the news. Other than his first sexual assault charges being dropped in January, Roethlisberger’s name has been synonymous with marriage, academia and family instead of booze and bad behavior.

“I am not surprised at all about the transformation he’s gone through,” veteran lineman Trai Essex said. “I don’t think it was that drastic of a change from the person he was to the person he is now. I don’t think he has strayed too far from what he has always been. But he has made an effort to become a little more vocal and be a little more transparent just so people can see who he is.”

Brett Keisel has been best friends with Roethlisberger since his rookie year and has seen the good and bad.

“He’s been though a lot,” Keisel said. “He’s done a great job rising up out of it.”

Roethlisberger points toward maturity and family but credits his renewed faith as the biggest reason he’s turned his life around.

Still, there is a faction of people who believe the “Big Ben” persona will make a return and that this recent behavior is intended to do nothing more than to repair his public image.

“You are always going to have the (jerks), so to speak, that will say some negative about what he’s doing,” Colon said. “For the people who know him and love him, we know where he is at. People have to start clapping on how his progression has been and forget about all the things he has been through.”

Added Essex: “He’s the same Benjamin he’s always been to me.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].

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