Throughout his entire career Ben Roethlisberger has kept his feelings, his emotions private. He has never been one to open up about them publicly, instead always keeping the focus on football.
Until now that is.
Roethlisberger is the subject of a new documentary style mini-series, "Bigger Than Ben," with the first of four parts, 'Bigger Circumstances,' released today by Mango Dragon Productions.
The four-part mini-series takes you through the journey Roethlisberger went through during the 2019 season and his elbow injury and his offseason recovery, to come back in 2020 for training camp stronger than ever and includes interviews with Roethlisberger, his wife Ashley, Coach Mike Tomlin, JuJu Smith-Schuster and more.
Heading into the 2019 season, Roethlisberger was the subject of criticism from many in the national media after the Steelers missed the playoffs. Some were relentless, bashing him for everything from his play to his leadership. For a player who takes a great deal of pride in being there for his teammates, he admitted that it did get to him.
"I'd lie if I said it didn't bother me," Roethlisberger shared in the series. "It's definitely hurtful when your character, your integrity, things are challenged and talked about, especially when you know better."
It wasn't just Roethlisberger who was bothered by the comments. His wife Ashley, also prominently featured in the series, was hurt by it and that bothered the quarterback more than anything.
"It affected her way more than me," said Roethlisberger. "I think that's natural. I told her, it's okay, I'm okay. I am in a good spot. When they are upset, that makes you upset. In the grand scheme of things, it brought us all together."
Getting to Saint Vincent College for the 2019 training camp was just the diversion Roethlisberger needed from the critics. It was his happy place, where he said, "Being on the field it all disappears."
There was pain in camp though too. On Aug. 11, 2019, Roethlisberger and his teammates received the devastating news that receivers Coach Daryl Drake had passed away.
"I remember thinking what, no, it doesn't make sense," Roethlisberger recalled. "I was in such disbelief. I called Ashely right away and that is when I broke down. I remember this heavy cloud and blanket on everybody. This can't be real. It can't be happening.
"We both enjoyed conversations about our faith. He was a brother in Christ in our coaching staff. There is no doubt God put him into my life for a reason."
The Steelers went into the 2019 season wanting to win for Drake, wanting to win for each other, wanting to prove the critics wrong. Things got off to a rocky start with a 33-3 loss to the New England Patriots.
"When you lose the first one, the only thing it just means you aren't going to be undefeated," said Roethlisberger of his message to his teammates after the game. "(I told them) be encouraged that we can come back next week and play."
It would be that next week that would change the 2019 season. Late in the first half Roethlisberger felt pain, a pain he described as something he never felt before.
"I always had a little bit of pain in a specific part of my arm. That is why I knew it was the same thing," said Roethlisberger. "I remember one of the throws I felt a different kind of pain, same spot, but shooting down my arm. It was like something tore, something went down my arm. It felt like a weird shooting pain. I threw a few more passes, and every pass I kept feeling it going more and more down my arm. I just kept going thinking when I get to the sideline, I will have Doc (Dr. James Bradley) look at it. I threw a deep pass to JuJu and that was the most excruciating pain I felt. I had to grab my arm. It felt like something just ripped off my bone."
When Roethlisberger went to the sidelines, Dr. Bradley told him he couldn't go back into the game. The results of a postgame MRI revealed he wouldn't be back at all in 2019.
"You have five flexor tendons that come from each finger that attach to one spot in your elbow," said Roethlisberger. "A long time ago I got a real small tear in one of them. It was a vertical tear. Not a big deal. That is the pain I had for the longest time. This time three of the five came clean off the bone."
Roethlisberger was faced with a decision. He could do nothing, but that would mean his football career was over. Or he could have surgery. After talking with his wife, who told him she would accept whatever decision he made and be okay if he decided on retirement, he made up his mind.
"He said thank you, but I don't feel done," said Ashley Roethlisberger. "I'm not done."
To watch the first segment of the mini-series, click here. New episodes will be available for the next three Wednesdays beginning at 9 a.m.