Big Ben relaxed in appearance
AMBRIDGE, Pa. -- Ben Roethlisberger enjoyed a warm reception from Pittsburgh Steelers fans in his first public appearance since being named in a civil lawsuit by a woman who alleges he sexually assaulted her.
Filming the first episode of Shaquille O'Neal's reality TV show, Roethlisberger kept things lighthearted and didn't discuss the allegations.
The two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback appeared loose and playful at a suburban Pittsburgh high school field Friday night in front of an estimated 5,000 that never showed signs of turning on him after the accusations against him that came out earlier this week.
Although he was not available to the media, Roethlisberger played the part of O'Neal's tongue-in-cheek sparring partner -- trashing-talking, whooping it up with the crowd, raising his fist in the air after long completions and doing fist pumps while sprinting down the field after touchdowns.
"He came out and he said, 'I want to have fun, but I want to win this thing,' " said Larry Carson, who was on Roethlisberger's team in the full-pads but two-hand-touch game and caught one of Big Ben's three touchdown passes. "He said, 'I'm not losing to Shaquille O'Neal.' And I guess he was having fun. He was hopping around, looking like he was enjoying it."
It was a contrast to Roethlisberger's demeanor at a brief news conference at the Steelers' practice facility on Thursday.
On that day, Roethlisberger read a minute-long statement denying the charges. Earlier, he had canceled a scheduled news conference in which he and O'Neal were to promote the show.
In his statement, Roethlisberger said he would not discuss the matter with the media further.
Ambridge High School's Moe Rubenstein Stadium holds 7,500 and four hours before the gates opened, people were lined up, winding down two blocks to ensure a good seat.
Some of the fans said they drove more than two hours and were generally enthusiastic. Dozens wore No. 7 Roethlisberger Steelers jerseys and twirled Terrible Towels.
"I love him so much, and I believe my baby's innocent," said 47-year-old Bonita Thompson, who lives two blocks from the stadium.
"People try to take advantage of him. But all of Ambridge supports him. I work at a nursing home, and all the people I take care of love him and support him."
Shane Newhouse teaches at Ambridge High and is an assistant coach on the varsity football team. His 4-year-old son, Caden, wore a Roethlisberger jersey as he was propped up on his dad's shoulders near the entrance tunnel where Roethlisberger ran onto the field to thunderous applause.
"My kids love Big Ben," Newhouse said. "They're all die-hard Steelers fans.
"We still support him. We believe him. It's innocent until proven guilty."
Roethlisberger was served in a civil lawsuit brought by Andrea McNulty, a 31-year-old woman who worked at the casino resort he stayed at for a celebrity golf tournament in July 2008.
McNulty, who did not file a criminal complaint, alleges the quarterback raped her in a hotel penthouse.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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