PITTSBURGH - Ben Roethlisberger will likely be able to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. The Super Bowl-winning quarterback has a long road to recovery to worry about first.
Roethlisberger was upgraded to fair condition at Mercy Hospital on Tuesday, a day after his bloody motorcycle accident at a busy Pittsburgh intersection left him and his team shaken.
Despite being tossed high into the air after his made-for-speed motorcycle rammed into a car, causing him to smack his head on the car's windshield, Roethlisberger escaped career-threatening injuries. He could be out of the hospital within three to five days
While the Steelers aren't yet talking about accident, which occurred when Roethlisberger was riding helmet-less on a racing motorcycle, it is all but certain they found his latest medical update very encouraging.
Roethlisberger's doctors stressed during a brief news conference Tuesday that his knees are not injured, positive news for an athlete who needed knee surgery only last season.
They also said his brain is functioning normally despite the concussion and the trauma of a crash that caused Roethlisberger to fly off his motorcycle and smack a car windshield with such force, his head left a glass-cracking dent in the shape of his skull.
"He is awake, alert, oriented and is resting with his family by his side," said Dr. Larry Jones, the chief of Mercy Hospital's trauma unit.
He could miss most of training camp, and is expected to lose weight because of the jaw injury. He'll need time to regain his strength, timing and conditioning.
Doctors also cautioned that medical problems can develop after such an accident, though all signs in Roethlisberger's case appear to be positive.
Coach Bill Cowher has said nothing publicly since making a hasty return to Pittsburgh from a vacation on Monday night, and it is unlikely any team official will comment about Roethlisberger's football future until he is out of the hospital.
But former Steelers teammate Chris Hope said Cowher had plenty to say last year after Roethlisberger was seen riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Cowher cautioned the quarterback about jeopardizing not only his health, but the fortunes of a team that gave him an estimated $45 million contract in 2004.
"He stressed how important it was to be careful in your cars, let alone a motorcycle, during the offseason or during the time you're traveling around the city," Hope, now of the Tennessee Titans, told Sirius Satellite Radio's NFL channel. "I can't remember if he specifically said Ben's name, but I know he did say, `I don't want you on motorcycles, but if you decide to ride one, please put on a helmet.'"
According to Hope, Cowher mentioned Roethlisberger by name, saying, "Big Ben, I know you like riding bikes, but be careful or put a helmet on at least to make us feel a little comfortable."
KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh reported that the 24-year-old Roethlisberger does not have a valid Pennsylvania motorcycle license and that his temporary permit expired in March, though he does have a valid automobile driver's license. The Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles declined to comment on the report.
Nobody has been cited in the crash and police will not release information until an accident reconstruction is complete, Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Tammy Ewin said.
Roethlisberger's accident set off debate around the NFL whether teams should take additional contractual safeguards to prevent their key players from participating in hazardous behavior.
A standard NFL player's contract prohibits any offseason activity that can be harmful, but not all players have clauses for activities such as motorcycle riding, all-terrain vehicle riding and skydiving. Roethlisberger's contract apparently did not, probably because the Steelers had no indication he indulged in motorcycle riding before signing the first-round draft pick.
"Maybe the first persons it'll hit is all the quarterbacks," NFL Player Association president Troy Vincent of the Buffalo Bills said Tuesday. "Now all the QB contracts may have something in them and then it might start tapering into the wideouts and into the running backs, generally your high-priced guys."
Vincent said he has ridden motorcycles, but never without a helmet.
In May 2005, Cowher warned Roethlisberger about his riding habits after Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow was injured in a motorcycle accident. Winslow tore knee ligaments and was lost for the season.
"I wish all our players liked board games or low-risk hobbies," Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage said Tuesday. "Unfortunately, that's part of the reason that makes these guys professional athletes. They have a little bit of an edge to want to do more, seek more. Where's the line? I don't know that."