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Published: Tuesday, 6/13/2006

Findlay residents rooting for Roethlisberger's recovery

Sam Saum, with wife Kim, says when he's seen Ben Roethlisberger visit his parents, who live across the street from the Saums, the quarterback usually drives a BMW or Cadillac, not a motorcycle. Sam Saum, with wife Kim, says when he's seen Ben Roethlisberger visit his parents, who live across the street from the Saums, the quarterback usually drives a BMW or Cadillac, not a motorcycle.

FINDLAY - Like many loyal Pittsburgh Steelers fans, Findlay Mayor Tony Iriti was at lunch when he heard that native son Ben Roethlisberger had been injured in a motorcycle crash.

"Within a minute or two of each other, my sister and my nephew called me," said the mayor, a Pittsburgh native and friend of Mr. Roethlisberger's since the Steelers' quarterback was in middle school with Mr. Iriti's son.

Mr. Iriti said he spoke with Mr. Roethlisberger's mother, Brenda, as she and her husband, Ken, were driving to Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon. They had little information about their son's condition at the time and were focused on getting to the hospital.

"My prayers are going out for him and hopefully everyone in Findlay is praying for him," the mayor said.

Indeed, even Findlay residents who claim lifelong allegiances to the rival Cleveland Browns said they were rooting for Mr. Roethlisberger.

Tony Iriti, mayor of Findlay Tony Iriti, mayor of Findlay

"I suppose everyone in this area is a Roethlisberger fan," said Bob Kettels, who aligns himself with the Browns. "It's too bad. I hope he's OK."

"Even when he got injured last year, you hope it isn't serious and I hope this isn't serious," said Fran Oakman, general manager of Fricker's restaurant in Findlay.

The restaurant has a Steelers' nook with autographed jerseys from Mr. Roethlisberger and other players.

It also has Mr. Roethlisberger's football helmet from his college days at Miami University of Ohio and a framed picture of Big Ben walking out of the Bowling Green State University locker room sporting a Fricker's T-shirt that he routinely wore under his jersey.

"Like the rest of the city of Findlay, we take a lot of pride in his accomplishments," said Mr. Oakman, also a Browns' fan. "We do wish him well and a speedy recovery."

Sam Saum, who lives across the street from the Roethlisbergers on Findlay's south side, said his father called him around noon to alert him to the news. Both are lifelong Steelers fans.

"I hope everything goes all right for him," Mr. Saum said. "Twenty-four years old, winning the Super Bowl, living out his dream - that's be a crime for someone with that much potential to be cut down in his prime."

Mr. Saum said that when Mr. Roethlisberger visits his family, he is usually driving a BMW or a Cadillac sport utility vehicle but he had never seen him on a motorcycle.

He too owns a motorcycle and, like Mr. Roethlisberger, does not usually wear a helmet.

"We might consider it now," Mr. Saum said, looking at his wife, Kim.

Mr. Iriti said he did not believe Mr. Roethlisberger would have been driving recklessly.

"I don't think of Ben as a risk-taker. I just think he's very confident in his ability to ride a motorcycle," the mayor said. "It's just one of those things that happened."

Jen Hizer of Findlay said she and co-workers at Tony's Restaurant, which sells a one-pound Big Ben Burger, kept their eyes on the news for updates about their favorite player.

"We hope his injuries aren't too severe," she said. "The last we heard he was stable but serious.

"Hopefully that means he's mendable."

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