You might expect Ben Roethlisberger to feel jealousy or a certain brand of competitive hatred toward the Patriots.
Tom Brady's won six Super Bowls, after all, and his squad has eliminated the Steelers from the playoffs twice during Roethlisberger's career. The first came during Roethlisberger's stellar 15-1 rookie season in 2004, then Brady did it again in 2016, both coming in the AFC Championship game.
That's just the playoff appearances. Overall, the Patriots are 9-4 against the Steelers since Roethlisberger took over, presenting a consistent and, at times, insurmountable challenge for the men in black and gold.
Eliminate Brady and the Patriots, and it's almost guaranteed Roethlisberger and the Steelers would have had a little more hardware on the mantle.
So that's gotta bug Roethlisberger — especially when you consider he'll have to watch the Patriots hang their sixth Super Bowl banner on opening night Sunday, Sept. 8 in Foxborough, right?
"I think it's cool to be a part of, honestly," Roethlisberger told media at the Rooney Complex Wednesday. "You go out there and you watch it. You sit there and you try to channel it to say, 'OK, that needs to be us next year.'"
That said, the competitive spirit remains strong, but it manifests as more of a sense of admiration and respect for the man on the other side. Roethlisberger always maintains a respectful tone when talking about Brady, and he wishes him all the best now and in the future.
Well, except on Sunday night from about 8:30 p.m. - midnight.
"I want our defense to get after that guy," Roethlisberger said. "But it's an honor to share the field with arguably the best of all time. It's humbling and fun to watch. I just always want him to have his worst game against us because our defense is getting after him ... It's not too often you get two old guys playing quarterback against each other in a game."
If it wasn't clear enough, I followed up with Roethlisberger later, asking him how this Steelers-Patriots matchup compares to some AFC North rivalries. Does it carry the same hype, the same drama and butterflies? Ehh. It's big, but in a different way:
"It's the first game of the year," Roethlisberger said. "They're the world champs, and we're just trying to get to where they've been, so it'll be exciting for all of us. And I know the crowd will be excited, Sunday Night Football — it's not a 1 o'clock game — so all those things add up to an exciting night."
Getting "where they've been" is no easy feat, you know, considering no team in NFL history has enjoyed this level of sustained success.
There's hope for the Steelers, though, and it stretches directly back to last season. The last time these two teams met, Dec. 16 at Heinz Field, the Steelers came out on top, 17-10, in a thriller. The Steelers are, in fact, the last team to beat the Patriots. But don't think for a second Roethlisberger leans too heavily on last year's game. It's a new year, a new team on both sides.
And perhaps most importantly, the Steelers have to travel north to their house this time.
"It's not fun," Roethlisberger said of facing the Patriots on the road in Week 1. "They're the best for a reason: Coaches and players. It's not like we've had a problem with them. The league's had a problem with them. They're that dominant. I said it before, playing (them) at home's hard enough. To go to their place is almost impossible. I guess the only positive is it's not an AFC North team ...
"What an awesome challenge it's going to be."
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
To continue reading, log into your account: