Big Ben turns to high-tech armor

Ben Roethlisberger will wear military-grade protection from Unequal Technologies for his shoulder on Sunday. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Fans could compare Ben Roethlisberger to Superman with the plays he’s made at Heinz Field over the years.

This Sunday, when the Steelers host the San Diego Chargers, a better comic-book comparison would be Iron Man. That’s because Big Ben will look like the Tony Stark of NFL quarterbacks.

After missing the last three games with an injured right shoulder, he’ll return to the field wearing a custom-made protective military-grade vest, created by Philadelphia-based Unequal Technologies (UT).

Roethlisberger’s Iron Man-like armor will consist of a compression shirt that has UT composite battle-tested padding, customized to fit the areas that need the most protection, such as his clavicle, ribs and shoulder.

This isn’t Unequal Technologies’ first time in the news. The company began working with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010, after Michael Vick cracked his sternum and the team was searching for added protection for their QB.

At that time, UT had been providing materials for U.S. military vests and helmets, on contract, for five years. UT created what was essentially a custom shirt with a chest protector for Vick, and later refit him for rib and sternum protection.

The company made noise again in August of this year when CEO Rob Vito guaranteed Michael Vick wouldn’t sustain further injury to his hurt ribs, thanks to an updated protective vest that UT created.

It should be noted that Vick has taken at least 168 hits to the body this season without injury to his ribs, and has recently reached out to UT for helmet padding.

And while the Eagles have been the longest-running sports client for the company, UT has also forged close relationships with other athletes -- particularly Pennsylvania-based ones -- including Pittsburgh Steelers teammates James Harrison, Ryan Clark, Charlie Batch, Troy Polamalu and Will Johnson.

The gear for each athlete is custom-fit and comes with a guarantee from UT’s R&D lab to fulfill specific personal protective needs.

Reps with Unequal Technologies say the company is getting a number of calls on a daily basis from NFL teams. In addition to working with the NFL, the company works with college teams, including Auburn University and the University of Alabama; NHL teams, including the Boston Bruins; and winter athletes such as snowmobile racer Levi LaVallee.

As for Roethlisberger, UT’s website says its EXO armor can protect quarterbacks “from bone-crushing blitzes.”

Let the test begin Sunday.