Jerome Bettis defended Ben Roethlisberger on Tuesday, saying on ESPN's "First Take" that his former Pittsburgh Steelers teammate is a good leader with simply a different style from Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
"I don't believe that Ben falls short in the leadership department," said Bettis, who won a Super Bowl with Roethlisberger and the Steelers in 2005. "You don't win a championship with a lack of leadership."
Former Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders created a stir Monday when he told KKFM in Denver that Manning is a "far better leader" than Roethlisberger. Sanders played his first four NFL seasons with Roethlisberger and the Steelers before signing with the Broncos in March.
"This is the first time that I had a quarterback that stays every single day after practice, no matter what his accolades," Sanders told KKFM about Manning. "He's not one of those guys you gotta go chase down. He's gonna be right at the same spot ready to work every single day."
Bettis said Sanders' comments were misguided and "a little disrespectful" to Roethlisberger.
"I think [Sanders] misunderstood what leadership is and he misspoke, and I think it was a little bit of a jab," said Bettis, who is an NFL analyst for ESPN. "I think if he had a chance, he'd take it back. It's not that Ben doesn't lead. He just leads differently than Peyton does."
Sanders took to Twitter on Monday following the ripple effects of his comparison between Manning and Roethlisberger and stood by what he said.
I never said Ben wasn't a leader... I just said Peyton is a better one. I have nothing but respect for Ben as a man and as a player. #truth— Emmanuel Sanders (@ESanders_10) July 28, 2014
Asked about Roethlisberger's leadership, Bettis said the Steelers quarterback talked him into returning for one more season after Pittsburgh lost to the New England Patriots in the 2004 AFC Championship Game.
Bettis won the Super Bowl ring that had eluded him in 2005 before retiring.
"Ben Roethlisberger told me, 'Hey, don't retire. I'm going to get you a championship. Trust me on this,'" Bettis said. "After every playoff game [in 2005], he gave me the game ball. After we won the Super Bowl, he gave me the game ball. That's leadership."