As was the case for Michael Vick, who made the transformation this season from dogfighting felon to nearly the league's most valuable player with the Philadelphia Eagles, the following question is pertinent for Ben Roethlisberger, who is Super Bowl-bound for a third time with the Pittsburgh Steelers after a reckless motorcycle accident in 2006 and a couple of sexual assault allegations within the last three years:
Is this real or fantasy?
Marriage supposedly is on the horizon for Roethlisberger, who hinted of becoming John Belushi from the movie "Animal House."
Consider, too, that Roethlisberger changed from ranking among the least favorite players of the media to receiving The Chief Award, given annually by the Pittsburgh members of the Pro Football Writers Association to the Steelers' player who best showed the spirit of cooperation that was expressed by team founder Art Rooney.
"My take is to try to be positive when talking about Ben, because while I can't guarantee that he won't have another hiccup, I do want to see him do well and be successful, and to keep his priorities where he seems to have them right now," said Martin Nance, 27, a long-time Roethlisberger buddy, who also is an interesting soul -- even beyond the fact that he is a former NFL player who currently is seeking a master's degree in business administration at the University of Michigan.
Nance is among those who have been up close and personal during Roethlisberger's journey from just plain Ben to college folk hero to Big Ben to two Super Bowl rings to knucklehead status involving those off-the field issues with the Steelers.
For one, Nance was a prolific wide receiver at Miami (Ohio) University when Roethlisberger spent his three seasons through 2003 breaking most passing records at a place that produced Hall of Fame coaches such as Paul Brown, Ara Parsegian, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. For another, Nance was Roethlisberger's NFL teammate in 2008 when the Steelers won their last Super Bowl.
The Roethlisberger that Nance saw in the past isn't necessarily the one that he sees now.
Or is it the same Roethlisberger?
"I wouldn't say he's changed so much. I think the circumstances around him have changed quite a bit in going from a quarterback of a mid-major school to a world championship quarterback, and it really has brought a lot of different challenges," said Nance, who frequently exchanges text and voice messages with Roethlisberger. "Anyone who knows Ben is surprised at the (sexual) allegations that came up, because that's definitely not something that people would expect to be associated with him.
"So to know that he has been able to be successful (in his comeback) at this point and to know that he seems to be really focused right now is something that I'm really happy to see."
What many can see is that Vick's transformation is real. Except for his poorly conceived birthday party over the summer in a Virginia Beach nightclub that resulted in a shooting involving one of his former pals, Vick has shown more signs these days of getting it than otherwise.
He has given several talks to youngsters throughout Philadelphia and beyond about the evil of dog fighting. He has admitted that, if not for his 18 months in prison, he still would be hanging with the wrong crowd and doing the wrong things. He also hasn't backed away from taking full responsibility for his previous sins.
For Roethlisberger ... well, it's still a work in progress.
This was encouraging, though: Roethlisberger dropped to his knees on Sunday at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field with a towel over this head in fervent prayer or deep reflection after he helped push his team to a 24-19 victory over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game.
Not only that, Roethlisberger's first words in a post-game interview with a CBS-TV announcer were "I tell you what. God is good."
Anyway, if Roethlisberger flashed signs in the past of functioning as a spiritual person, you would think Nance would have noticed as much as an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Miami (Ohio) and with the Steelers.
"I can't speak specifically about Ben's faith, but I can say that he's a man that really does appreciate and respect high character, and I believe he is working hard to continue to develop himself on and off the field," Nance said. "His family is a family of Christians and of people who really appreciate and believe in faith. So I think it's good to see him honor that and to continue to shape his life in a way that honors that."
As for Roethlisberger's family, he grew up in Findlay, Ohio, where his parents went through a divorce. His mother, Ida, later died in a car accident when he was eight, but his father, Ken, remarried, and the older Roethlisberger and his new wife, Brenda, raised Ben and his younger sister, Carlee, in what has been described through the years by many as a devout Methodist household.
This means ... what for Roethlisberger's future?
"You know, I don't think I'm qualified to say whether he has or hasn't gotten over whatever (problem he has)," Nance said. "But I think that, as a friend and as a former teammate, I'm definitely pulling for him to continue to stay focused and to continue to keep God as his center."
More from NFL.com: