PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger didn't have the mumps on his mind Wednesday, until he met with members of the Pittsburgh media who also cover the hockey team across town. They asked him about the disease that's spreading through the Penguins.
"I hope none of you have been there," Roethlisberger said. "Because if any of these microphones have been there, and they are this close to me, then we’re in trouble."
Good point. But Roethlisberger should probably worry more about whether his offensive line can block Justin Houston and Tamba Hali on Sunday, because the last time he faced them Roethlisberger had to fear for his life.
"Ah," right tackle Mike Adams said dismissively. "We're not sitting back thinking about what happened two years ago. We're just excited for the challenge, ready to go, ready to protect our guy so he can do what he does."
They had better worry about what happened two years ago if the Pittsburgh Steelers don't want to repeat that doomed history.
Against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012, in the first series of the third quarter of a 10-10 game, Roethlisberger was sandwiched by the Chiefs' defensive ends. He left the game with a shoulder injury, but learned later that the rib which protected his aorta had loosened and could've threatened his life with another hit.
The Steelers did beat the Chiefs in overtime to improve to 6-3, but Roethlisberger missed the next two games, both losses, and when he returned neither he nor the Steelers got their groove back and finished 8-8.
Hali with his 79.5 career sacks has the larger reputation, but it was Houston who put his helmet into Roethlisberger's ribs and ruined the Steelers' season. He's done it a few times since in tying Elvis Dumervil of Baltimore for the NFL lead in sacks with 17 this season.
"He's a very skilled rusher," Adams said. "He uses his hands very well. He's very athletic, and he's a long guy so he has good leverage. He's an explosive athlete. He knows how to play the game. He looks good on film. He's someone you've really got to prepare for."
The Steelers have Marcus Gilbert back at practice and both of their right tackles are in a heated battle for playing time. Perhaps Tomlin should just use both to block Houston.
"We have to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright," said Tomlin, "if we are going to have the chance to have the type of day that we need to have." Of the two bookends, Houston is the bigger problem. His old teammate at the University of Georgia, Jarvis Jones, is also Houston's off-season workout partner and said, "He's just a freak athlete."
Houston was a third-round pick in 2011 after measuring a tick under 6-3 at the combine, weighing 270 and running a 4.62 40. He only had 10 sacks his final year at Georgia, but Jones -- who was being redshirted behind Houston -- explained that Houston had to learn a new scheme under a new coordinator and probably should've been drafted higher.
"He was graded first-round pick that went in the third round," Jones said of the player who was drafted seven picks after Gilbert. "He had some issues that made him fall to the third round, but he was a player. Everybody in the country knew he was a player. His issue made him drop to the third round.
"I'm not surprised by the things he's doing out there. He was leading the league in sacks last year until he broke his arm. I'm not surprised."
Jones isn't surprised by Houston's 17 sacks?
"It's very eye-opening, especially from somebody I train with," Jones said. "To see I've got two sacks and he's got 17, it's very eye-opening. He's showing off his hard work. He worked for it. I knew the things he was doing. He's shooting for his goal and he's really wanting it. I've just got to hop on board."
Jones does the same workouts as his friend, but said Houston "is bigger, faster and stronger than me so his technique's going to be way better. But yeah a lot of stuff we do the same. He's just a beast, man. He's an extremely hard worker and it's paying off for him."
Jones was watching from college when Houston tore the Steelers' season apart in 2012. "I was a Steelers fan," Jones said, "but I was cheering on my guy. It was a big play. It was a game-changing play. But you don't want to wish anybody getting hurt."
It's the main Pittsburgh wish this week.