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The Hot Read: Anticipating The Madness Surrounding Ben Roethlisberger's Return To The Steelers

Tired of all the Brett Favre coverage? Well, Ben Roethlisberger returns to the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend, a story line sure to be pursued from every possible angle by any journalist with a microphone or keyboard.

If there is anyone who's benefited from the ongoing turmoil regarding Brett Favre alleged penile cell phone shots to Jenn Sterger, aside from Deadspin itself, it has to be Ben Roethlisberger. During a week in which the man who was the NFL's biggest villain in the offseason prepares to make his return to the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the righteous indignation of the masses, and therefore the damning presumptive judgment of the media, has been leveled at another superstar quarterback.

But that can be avoided for only so long. By the time Sunday rolls around, the focus of critical coverage will shift back to Roethlisberger, who takes the field in the regular season for the first time since Week 17 of last year.

Besides the obvious plus of getting to play in more games, the reduction of his conditional suspension from six games to four means Roethlisberger gets to make his return at home against the lowly Cleveland Browns in an early Sunday game subject to only regional television coverage. Had the suspension not been reduced, his first game back would have been a nationally televised Sunday night game against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in New Orleans. Certainly more forbidding conditions, both on and off the field.

So the stakes and the ratings are somewhat lower than they would have been otherwise. That doesn't mean there still won't be plenty of lunacy surrounding Ben's first game back, no matter how it ends up playing out. Should you have any doubt, just think back to the off-season, when Roethlisberger's issues with sexual assault allegations were blamed on such things as concussions, his mother dying when he was a kid and yet another athlete's outsized sense of entitlement as evidenced by the fact that Roethlisberger is a reputed jerk to waitstaff in and around the Pittsburgh area. Who knows, the press may even get another juicy quote out of "Craig."

Why this happened is anyone's guess. Most of the public presumed Roethlisberger was guilty. Those who presumed guilt were upset that the authorities couldn't gather enough evidence to convict, yet alone charge him with a crime. So the media gave out additional vague reasons to detest Ben or assume he's a deeply troubled and damaged human being. These reasons were taken as proxy to an actual guilty verdict.

And such is the volatile context waiting to be reignited Sunday. Five weeks of NFL action and the Favre saga have pushed Roethlisberger to the back of minds of many football fans, but regardless of the outcome of the game against the Browns, it's all about to come storming back.

A sampling of things we can expect with near certainty to occur on Sunday:

An abundance of attention given to how much Roethlisberger is booed by the home crowd.

Ben Roethlisberger already played in front of the home folks in the preseason, where he received mostly cheers and a smattering of boos. But that's the preseason. No one really cares about the preseason and Roethlisberger wasn't at the time "officially" back yet. Now he is, and it counts. You'll hear the audio breakdown on every NFL postgame show all weekend.

Twitpics surfacing of someone placing a Roethlisberger related sticker on a Port-o-Potty or a Heinz Field bathroom:

With kinda-sorta still rival Cleveland in town, the possibility for mocking high jinks is elevated. Given how things played out in Milledgeville, this is one of the more likely to get out to the public. That or someone having a customized No. 7 Steelers jersey with Rapistberger or somesuch insult printed on the back.

CBS announcers gushing over how much more focused Ben seems this year compared to years past.

Favorable coverage for scandal fraught players isn't exclusive to Brett Favre, only more extreme. While Roethisberger likely won't get the constant apologies for screw-ups Favre got from the ESPN booth on Monday night, CBS' Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots will make sure to point out with regularity that reports have said Roethlisberger has taken training to a higher level this year than maybe ever before. And even if you like the Steelers, you will likely hate them for it.

Mike Florio interpreting an incomplete pass or random sideline gesture as a sign that Roethlisberger really wants to retire.

Roethlisberger recently admitted in an interview with ESPN's Merril Hoge that he had contemplated leaving football amid the drama going on in his life. Never one to leave a loose thread of drama unpulled, ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio will find a way to further that story, even if it means trying to extract deep unseen meaning out of a sidelong glance caught on the sideline.

Video of an angry yinzer demanding that Charlie Batch be named started the rest of the season no matter how well Roethlisberger plays.

No one is popular anywhere like Charlie Batch is popular in Pittsburgh. He could be mayor if he wanted.

If the Steelers win, a facile story of redemption will be spun.

It's just how these things work. An athlete can mess up in any conceivable way. As long as he atones somehow and returns to victory, this is path taken by the media according to the tacit laws of simplistic sports morals. And people wonder how those feelings of entitlement get fostered.

If the Steelers lose, the distraction storyline will be a constant for at least a month.

Just as a troubled player who wins is feted with redemption, the loser is further saddled with being a millstone around the neck of all his teammates. This would be especially the case for Roethlisberger, who is rejoining a team that had been playing very well in his absence and now faces a team they are widely assumed to beat.

If Roethlisberger is injured in any way, karma will be a trending topic on Twitter.

Adjust your SEO strategies accordingly.