ARLINGTON, Texas - Ben Roethlisberger looked like a changed man.
The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback stepped to the podium for his press conference, about a half-hour after the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV, 31-25. Roethlisberger quietly answered a few questions, about the disappointment, about his two interceptions, about the failed two-minute drive to end the game. Typical postgame fair.
But still, something seemed different about Roethlisberger. Then the question came.
"Were you going to shave the beard, win or lose," a reporter asked.
"Yep," came the reply from the freshly shorn QB.
Roethlisberger had taken great pride in growing out his facial hair during the playoffs, but it was nothing compared to the image makeover he tried to accomplish during the 2010 season. Roethlisberger, accused of sexual assault last March (but not charged), was suspended for the Steelers' first four games and used the incident to start turning his life around.
By all accounts, Roethlisberger is succeeding. There have been no more incidents, no more reports of immature behavior from the 28-year-old QB. Teammates spoke of seeing a new Ben in the locker room, in the huddle, off the field. All week in North Texas, stories centered around the 'redemption' of the two-time Super Bowl winner.
And Sunday night, all that stood between Roethlisberger and ring No. 3 was 87 yards. After a furious second-half comeback, the Steelers found themselves down six, with the ball on their own 13-yard-line, and 1:59 on the clock. On its previous possession, Pittsburgh needed only seven plays to drive 66 yards for a touchdown.
"I believe in you guys," Roethlisberger remembered saying to his teammates before the final drive started. "I think we all really felt like we could [drive for the game-winning touchdown.]"
Head coach Mike Tomlin agreed, saying: "Whenever there's time on the clock and we're inside of a one-score game, I feel pretty confident that we're capable of doing the job."
Tomlin and Roethlisberger had reason to be confident. Two years ago, in Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers trailed the Arizona Cardinals 23-20 with 2:37 remaining. Roethlisberger stepped into the huddle and drove the Steelers 78 yards for the title-clinching touchdown.
But this time would be different, although it started off promising. Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for a 15-yard completion on the first play. The next play was a five-yard pass to Hines Ward, who had a great game himself, catching seven balls for 78 yards and a touchdown.
"I thought it was going to be one of those magical moments," said Ward, one of 10 Steelers who fell short of winning a third ring. "Two minutes left, one timeout, we have the ball. ... We just didn't finish."
The next three plays, all incomplete passes by Roethlisberger, sealed Pittsburgh's fate. Roethlisberger finished the night 25 of 40 for 263 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"We believed we were going to get the job done," Miller said. "We had faith in each other and we had faith in our quarterback [because] he'd done it so many times before."
Throughout the week, Roethlisberger refused to answer questions about his roller-coaster year, beginning with the accusations of sexual assault and ending with his third Super Bowl appearance in six seasons as a pro. Roethlisberger preferred, he said, to reflect on the year after the season was over. So Sunday night, with the Packers still celebrating in a sea of confetti at Cowboys Stadium and the 2010 NFL season officially in the books, how did Roethlisberger feel?
"Personally, I feel like I let a lot of people down," he said.
Roethlisberger was talking about the game, but it was a familiar refrain.