- Gene J. Puskar/AP
For the past two seasons, as the rest of his team stretches together at the beginning of practice, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is often seen throwing a red and white rugby ball with an equipment manager standing some 15 feet away.
He throws it overhand, like a football, but also tosses it sidearm and underhand while experimenting with different grips and angles.
In a fun story on ESPN Wednesday, Jeremy Fowler explained that Roethlisberger does this for the same reason baseball players use donuts: it helps make the football feel smaller and lighter.
“It makes the actual ball feel smaller for practice,” Roethlisberger told ESPN.
Here’s Roethlisberger tossing it around during a practice, via PennLive:
Fowler also reports that the rugby ball, which is at least two ounces heavier than a football, helps Roethlisberger warm up his shoulder during practice.
According to Fowler, finding a rugby ball in Pittsburgh was surprisingly difficult for the Steelers equipment staff.
The backstory behind the ball: About two years ago, Roethlisberger asked the equipment managers if he could bring a rugby ball to practices. But field manager Patrick Noone said the group looked everywhere — Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, wherever — and couldn’t find the ball for sale.
Eventually, they stumbled across BSN Sports out of Pittsburgh. About $33 later, Big Ben has his big ball.
Roethlisberger is off to a great start this season, having thrown six touchdowns in two games. The Steelers are 2-0. If they keep winning, expect other QBs to start asking their equipment managers to buy them rugby balls.