Back in January, you might have thought that if Ben Roethlisberger would be winning three awards in 2010, they'd have been Super Bowl Champion, Super Bowl MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.
But Roethlisberger's off-field travails have earned him another kind of triple crown from City Paper readers.
On March 5, Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old college student in a bar in Milledgeville, Ga. Roethlisberger was never arrested, and charges were never filed. "I cannot prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," Milledgeville District Attorney Fred Bright told reporters on April 12. But the accusation echoed allegations previously made against Roethlisberger by a then-hostess at Harrah's South Lake Tahoe who has filed a civil lawsuit against him. And it dovetailed with more everyday complaints from locals about Roethlisberger's arrogance.
"Superman kept taking over Clark Kent, and you just never saw who Ben Roethlisberger was any more," Roethlisberger told KDKA-TV's Bob Pompeani in June. "I was gaining everything, but I was losing a lot of who I was raised to be. It got so overwhelming, it consumed me."
The Milledgeville incident prompted a four-game suspension at the outset of the season, which ended with Roethlisberger's victorious Oct. 17 return against the Cleveland Browns.
And while it's been a long road back to the NFL for Roethlisberger, how much longer will it be before he wins back the hearts and minds of Steelers fans?
"I thought the telling moment so far this year was that first home game back," says John Clark, a professor of sports management at Robert Morris University. "There was a smattering of boos and a small protest, but overall he was fairly well received.
"I've always thought that once he started playing again, and playing well, that a lot of the verbal attacks on him would just melt away," Clark adds. "And I think they have."
(Still, Clark says he's mystified why readers would dub Roethlisberger's troubles the city's "best sports moment." "Did nothing else happen this year noteworthy?" he asks. "It's a bit perplexing to me, but in a way it shows the level of celebrity in this town that Roethlisberger has.")
Clark says Roethlisberger has been working diligently since the Milledgeville incident on rehabilitating his image.
"Since he's come back, his advisers have been working to have him viewed favorably in public, and so far he's stayed on script, and I think it's working," Clark says. "But there are still a lot of people who are skeptical about whether or not he's really turned over a new leaf, and it will take time to win those people back."
So how long will it take for Roethlisberger to return to the public's good side? Could there be a day when Roethlisberger contends for the City Paper reader's award won by teammate Troy Polamalu -- "Best Pittsburgher to have a beer with"?
"Continuing to play well and maybe making a deep playoff run couldn't hurt the guy," says Clark. "But to become that much of a fan favorite again? He's still got a long way yet to go."