Big Ben strikes deal

<b>LATROBE -</b> Ben Roethlisberger drove all afternoon to sign the contract his agent worked all night and into the early morning to hammer out. And it was worth it.<br><br> Roethlisberger, the Steelers' No. 1 draft pick and franchise quarterback of the future, agreed to take $9.009 million off their hands with the stroke of a pen. It was the largest signing bonus the Steelers have ever doled out and could possibly turn into $40 million by the year 2009.<

The Steelers signed Roethlisberger to a six-year deal that will pay him the $9.009 million in signing and option bonuses by March 1, 2005. He'll receive the bonuses in sums of $600,000, $1.172 million and $7.237 million. Roethlisberger will make the minimum base salary of $230,000 this season.

"It was a long process; it was caffeine assisted," said Roethlisberger's agent Leigh Steinberg. "Omar (Khan) has tremendous stamina, so we went late into last night."

The signing ended a brief holdout in which Roethlisberger missed four days of work, including the run test and four practices.

"The world will little, nor long, remember that it was a day or two late," Steinberg said.

Roethlisberger, of course, was a record-setting quarterback at Miami of Ohio. He left the school after his redshirt junior season. He completed 66 percent of his passes for 10,829 yards, 84 touchdowns and 34 interceptions. He can run, throw and drive, which he deftly proved Tuesday in making the trip from Findlay, Ohio, in four and one half hours. He didn't speed or make any wrong turns and showed up at St. Vincent College at 3:20 p.m.

"Finally, a chance to play football," he said at a 5:30 p.m. press conference. "I got a lot of stuff out of the way that's in the past now, contracts and all that stuff. Now it's time for football."

Roethlisberger had to miss Tuesday's only practice, but was in time for the 7:30 p.m. meeting. He's expected to practice today, both in the morning at St. Vincent College and in the evening at Latrobe Stadium.

"I'm excited, nervous, the same feelings I'm going through as in the minicamps," he said. "I think once I get out there and throw the first couple passes it's just going to be a relief and it's just going to kind of come back to me I hope."

How far behind is Roethlisberger? Cowher said he's missed both nothing and something. "Nothing new," Cowher said. "These are things he's learned the first time in the off-season program. The fact he was there will help a lot." In the next sentence, Cowher said: "Obviously he'll have to spend some extra time getting caught up on the things we've put in because there's more things going in every night."

Mark Whipple, the team's new quarterbacks coach, hopes to first and foremost make Roethlisberger feel comfortable.

"I want to make sure he hasn't lost his confidence, that this is a business," said Whipple. "He finished up minicamp great and I just want him to continue on from there. I'll get with him and make sure he's settled on the installation and things we've gone over."

How much has he really missed?

"Things that he's done already. It's not anything new. I mean, we've done it all so we'll just re-hash. He's had 19 practices and all the tapes and studying. The biggest thing is it's done, let's get back to work and just be yourself."

Whipple believes that since the other quarterbacks are familiar with the offense, he'll have more time to work individually with Roethlisberger, who won't be rushed into playing this year.

"Whatever they ask of me, I'm going to do," Roethlisberger said of his expectations for playing time. "Whether that's the back-up, third string, whatever it is I'm willing to do to help this team because that's my priority right now: this organization and this team."

Roethlisberger will buy a house in Pittsburgh and also plans to give something back to his hometown, college and new home. Specifically, he hopes to initiate charity golf tournaments for the fire and police departments of Findlay and for the football program at Miami. He also wants to donate to youth football in Pittsburgh.

"We're hoping this contract works well for other people than (just) for Ben," said Steinberg.

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