TAMPA, Fla. - Ben Roethlisberger was thrilled to get the ring. He was a second-year quarterback, after all, and not many of those win championships. But a few weeks after the Steelers beat the Seahawks, 21-10, in Super Bowl XL, something started eating at him.
He had played badly, going just 9-for-21 for 123 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, and the team's best pass was wide receiver Antwaan Randle El's 43-yard TD to Hines Ward.
"The first time, my play didn't help the team to win," Roethlisberger said after the Steelers arrived for Super Bowl XLIII. "It almost helped us lose it."
Yesterday, during the pomp, circumstance and absurdity -- a man in women's clothing was asking questions -- of media day, Roethlisberger smiled for much of the 60 minutes he sat and answered questions. That is, with the exception of when Super Bowl XL was raised.
"I've always said that when the game was over, it was such an unbelievable feeling to win a Super Bowl," Roethlisberger said. "As time passed, I got a little upset that I didn't play so well and that I didn't help the team win the game. Yeah, it fuels the fire to want to come out and play a better game next time."
That next time is Sunday, and Roethlisberger is a different quarterback than he was three seasons ago.
"Light years," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "He was a member of that team and he's a leader of this team. His play has shown that, his preparation and everything else. He has carried us to this point."
Doing so with passing and scrambling but also with a characteristic most prevalent in the top quarterbacks: leadership. "It's Ben's offense now," Arians said.
Ward said: "The year we were in the Super Bowl, we had great players. We had Alan Faneca. We had Jerome Bettis; a great mix of guys in that huddle. Now it's all Ben's huddle. He takes precedence in that huddle. All eyes are on him."
Mike Tomlin wasn't the Steelers' coach in that Super Bowl, but he said yesterday he's noticed a significantly different Roesthlisberger than the one he had last year.
"He is becoming a seasoned veteran, becoming comfortable in his shoes and what it means to be the quarterback of this football team," Tomlin said. "If there is a word I can use to describe him, it's comfortable. He is very comfortable in what his job and his job description is."
And part of that comfort comes from being able to deal with what the Steelers and Cardinals faced yesterday. A media horde that in one breath could ask a question about handling the weak-side blitz and in another posit something about lingerie.
Roethlisberger's message as a Super Bowl veteran is "it's just a football game," regardless of yesterday and the steadily increasing hype that will follow.
"I'm treating it more like a game," he said. "Yeah, it's a Super Bowl and we have an opponent, but it's just about having fun. I treated it like a big game the first time and it didn't work out so well for me. I'm going to try to treat it like it's a normal game. You know what's going on and you know it's more than just that, but I'm just going to come out here and have fun on Sunday."
He has even allowed himself to ponder what winning a second Lombardi Trophy would be like.