Wednesday, July 06, 2005
By Ron Musselman, Block News Alliance
SYLVANIA, Ohio -- It wasn't exactly an all-out blitz, but the question left Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger scrambling for an answer yesterday.
We all know he can play golf -- No. 7 plays to a 7-handicap -- but can his girlfriend, LPGA Tour glamour girl Natalie Gulbis, throw a football?
"Yeah, she's all right," Roethlisberger said, laughing. "But I don't think I have to worry about losing my day job there."
The Roethlisberger-Gulbis pairing makes sense, both on and off the golf course.
Roethlisberger, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound hotshot from Findlay, Ohio, has become a folk hero in Pittsburgh after a fairy-tale rookie season.
Gulbis, a 5-9 native Californian with blonde hair and blue-green eyes, is one of the most marketable players on the LPGA Tour.
Roethlisberger is 24; Gulbis 22.
Both young celebrities have their own Web sites.
Roethlisberger spent the first part of the year denying their involvement, but he finally came clean in mid-April after a picture surfaced showing him standing with his arm around Gulbis after they played together in the pro-am at the Kraft Nabisco Championship the previous month.
Yesterday, Ben and Natalie teamed up for the six-hole Dana Celebrity/LPGA Challenge at Highland Meadows Golf Club, site of the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic this week. And they will be paired again today in the National City Celebrity pro-am.
Although Roethlisberger prefers not to talk much about his relationship with Gulbis, he's in his comfort zone this week.
Not only does he have Natalie by his side, but he also is surrounded by family and friends.
Yesterday, Roethlisberger also was accompanied by three hulking bodyguards who made him look small.
Life has changed quite a bit for Roethlisberger in the past year. Everybody knows who he is; everyone wants to rub elbows with him.
"Everywhere I go somebody is either saying my name or wanting an autograph or picture," he said. "It's just so crazy."
To get away from it all, Roethlisberger recently took his father, Ken, and two uncles on a five-day fly-fishing trip to Wyoming.
In a few weeks, he will be right back in the fish bowl when the Steelers report for training camp.
"We definitely set the bar pretty high," said Roethlisberger, who received a $9 million signing bonus last year in addition to his $230,000 salary. "I don't hear, 'Let's get to the playoffs and win the Super Bowl,' but rather, 'We've got to go 16-0 and win the Super Bowl.' "
Ben knows he has a lot of work to do for an encore performance.
A year ago, after replacing injured starter Tommy Maddox, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to 14 consecutive wins before losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game. He set several records along the way and was the NFL offensive rookie of the year.
Besides their individual talents, Gulbis and Roethlisberger share the weight of significant expectations. He needs a Super Bowl ring; she is looking for her first LPGA win, even though she has earned nearly $1.5 million in her four-year pro career.
Gulbis gets another crack at that tomorrow at Highland Meadows, with her biggest fan pacing outside the ropes, golf's version of the sideline.
(Ron Musselman writes for The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, and the Block News Alliance.)