TAMPA - Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 46 times this season. Only one other quarterback - the Patriots' Matt Cassel - has been decked more.

A few of those sacks have been Roethlisberger's fault for hanging on to the ball too long, and a few others are the fault of running backs or tight ends who missed blocks. But enough of them have the offensive line's paw prints on them, that if Big Ben wanted to chew some people out, nobody would blame him.

But that's not going to happen, not even if the Cardinals dance on his 6-5, 250-pound body Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII. Roethlisberger has developed a bond with his blockers that is reminiscent of the old days of the NFL when the quarterback often went out drinking with his offensive linemen.

"I feel close to this group," the Steelers quarterback said. "The guys who are starting now, I'm kind of the old guy, and can take the big brother role. I want them to know how much I care about them. They're my livelihood. They protect me."

Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb can't even get most of his receivers to come out to Arizona and play catch with him before training camp. But last March, Roethlisberger brought all of the Steelers' offensive linemen down to his lakefront home in Georgia for a little R & R. There wasn't a single no-show.

"I finally got to see Ben outside of Ben," said right tackle Willie Colon. "We walked away from that trip realizing he's all right. He's one of us. It kind of snowballed from there. We love him. He's our guy."

The Steelers are Roethlisberger's team now. They weren't in 2005, the last time they made it to the Super Bowl. He was in just his second year as the team's quarterback and there were a lot of veterans who handled the leadership duties. But many of those veterans are gone and Big Ben has taken his place in the driver's seat.

"He stepped out of his shell," Colon said. "He realized that if he wanted to be great, if he wanted to do what he wanted to do, he was going to have to lean on us and we were going to have to lean on him, and we were going to have to form that bond.

"A lot of that doesn't have to be on the field. A lot of that comes from just sitting around together and playing cards and watching TV."

And winning football games.


This could be one heck of a weekend for Cardinals assistant head coach

Russ Grimm

. His team is in the Super Bowl, and Grimm is one of the 15 modern-era finalists for the Hall of Fame. The 44-man selection committee will choose this year's class Saturday morning. Grimm, of course, was one of the "Hogs" on the Washington Redskins' three Super Bowl champions. "We'll see what happens," Grimm said. "I believe all the guys on that list are deserving. But it's just a matter of seeing who gets in after the vote" . . . Former Eagles defensive end

Claude Humphrey

also is a Hall candidate. He is one of two veterans committee candidates, along with Cowboys wide receiver

Bob Hayes

. Humphrey spent most of his career with the Atlanta Falcons, but was traded to the Eagles in 1979 and was one of their top defensive players on their 1980 Super Bowl team. He had 14 1/2 sacks that season. Humphrey retired a year later. *