Finality brings Roethlisberger to tears

Roger Goodell reduced Ben Roethlisberger's suspension to four games Friday, but Mike Prisuta tells of the gloomy scene Thursday night inside Pittsburgh's locker room.

PITTSBURGH -- Ben wept.

"He broke down," wide receiver Hines Ward reported late Thursday night in the bowels of Heinz Field.

"The reality sets in. He's feeling the pain because now it's hitting home."

"It," of course, is Roethlisberger's impending suspension, which includes his missing four games and being banished from the Steelers' practice facility for the duration.

It's possible the loss of Byron Leftwich to a knee injury in Thursday night's 19-3, preseason-concluding victory over Carolina made Roethlisberger's situation all the more difficult to take.

"It's very tough," Roethlisberger said, "kind of emotional.

"I just gotta do what I gotta do."

"He apologized to all the guys," Ward said. "It was very heartwarming. He didn't have to do it."

The Steelers and Roethlisberger have known this day was coming. And the potential length of his suspension has been discussed and/or debated almost daily, particularly since NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's visit to St. Vincent College.

It's not as if it was possible to be blindsided in this instance. But as long as there were practices to attend and preseason games to focus upon, it somehow wasn't as real. The clock struck midnight along those lines at about 10:30 p.m. Thursday.

"It seemed like it would never come," Ward said.

And now?

"It's like judgment day."

As Ward understands it, the sanctions against Roethlisberger include his being unable to talk to his teammates about "the game-plan and stuff like that, we can't do it.

"We wouldn't even risk doing that because that's subjected to more suspension, more games being lost if he does that," Ward said. "Goodell's not playing."

Kicker Jeff Reed, too, felt Roethlisberger's pain during the post-game address from Roethlisberger to his teammates.

"When we win games and when we know we have a couple of days off it's a happy mood," in the locker room, Reed said. "Once he started talking we could tell how upset he was. It put a damper on things.

"I wouldn't say guys were crying, but I will say that he will be missed. Not to take anything away from these guys we got (at quarterback), because they're great or they wouldn't be at this level. And luckily for us we have four starters. Other teams, if their starter goes down they're in trouble, and we're not."

But that said, "It stinks that he can't be around," Reed continued. "I think not playing the games is one thing, but not letting the guy in the facility for four or six weeks, whatever it is, it's tough for us and for him. He's a guy that's been a captain of this team. If I was in his shoes I'd feel the same way."

Throughout the preseason it was as if Roethlisberger and the Steelers were treating his upcoming exodus with a conditioned response, with a we'll-deal-with-that-when-we-have-to attitude.

Now that its judgment day, they're suddenly seemingly counting the days, and perhaps the hours and the minutes until his return.

"It kinda stinks, man, but he'll pay his dues and move forward," Reed said. "He'll stay in shape and he'll come back ready and hungry, so maybe that's even a better thing for us."

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