I've been half-joking for a few days that the Steelers, in a fit of indignation, should trade Ben Roethlisberger to the Oakland Raiders (a.k.a. where careers go to die) to punish him not only for his reckless behavior, but also for his inability to appreciate his unique and fortunate status as the quarterback of one of sports' top franchises.
As it turns out, according to NFL.com, the Raiders are the team most interested in trading for Big Ben before this evening's draft. I can't imagine the Steelers actually doing this (John Clayton's report suggests that a trade is unlikely), but, then again, the Rooneys are fed up with the bug of irresponsibility that seems to have bitten the six-time Super Bowl champs.
Still, many Pittsburgh fans and writers are calling for cooler heads to prevail and for the team to stand pat. However, they seem to be overlooking one giant hurdle Ben will have to overcome if he stays with the team: the raging animosity of the brutal Pittsburgh fan base.
Remember, he came into the starting role as a rookie, filling in for an injured Tommy Maddox (who, at that point, fans were lukewarm about). Blessed with a stifling defense, he ran off 14 straight wins en route to an AFC Championship berth. Since then, there have been grumbles about his play and off-field behavior from time to time, but, generally, Ben has been treated deferentially in a city notoriously hard on its sports figures. Before Georgia, among active players, only he and Sidney Crosby had a pass. Now, Ben's pass has been revoked, and, for the first time, he'll have to prove himself to a skeptical and unforgiving Pittsburgh fan base.
We know he's a great player, but we don't have any idea if he's up for handling this sort of pressure. What happens when he throws two interceptions in his first game back in, say, week six against the Browns? There will be boos, there will be epithets, there will be vitriolic commentary, and there will be immense pressure not only on Ben, but also on the rest of the team. That won't do wonders for locker room chemistry.
This isn't an argument in favor of trading him. It's simply meant to add another sobering dose of reality to the conversations going on in Pittsburgh tonight.