Today (March 2) is Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s birthday. Not only is it his birthday, the 2014 offseason marks the 10 year anniversary of when Roethlisberger was drafted by Pittsburgh and soon became the franchise quarterback fans of the team had been waiting for since Terry Bradshaw retired in the 1984 offseason.
Don’t worry, I’m not one of those fans who eats, sleeps and drinks all things Big Ben, but I am a huge supporter and fully aware of what his presence on the Steelers for 10 years has represented to the franchise–and that’s legitimacy.
Twenty years is a long time to go without a franchise passer. And even in the days when the NFL hadn’t quite morphed into “It’s a quarterback-driven league,” it was still pretty apparent that having a quarterback who looked and acted the part (the latter probably being more important than the former) was paramount to a football team’s championship success.
It’s almost become cliched to say, “As long as (insert team here) has (insert franchise quarterback here), that team has at least a fighter’s chance of contending for a championship,” but it’s oh, so true. And it’s a missing ingredient that’s more than noticeable on a team that seems to have all the parts necessary to win, from the front office to the coaching staff to the roster…..save for that legit man taking the snap from center.
For about half of those 20 years I referenced in a previous paragraph, Pittsburgh appeared to have most of the essential ingredients for championship success—solid to dominant defenses, productive rushing attacks and, of course, two legendary coaches in Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher–but the one thing that always seemed to get in the way was a quarterback who came up small in the most crucial of postseason situations.
Whether it was Mark Malone’s dwarfed talents compared to Dan Marino in the 1984 AFC Championship game, Bubby Brister’s inability to come through in the clutch in the 1989 Divisional Playoff game in Denver after John Elway had done just that, moments earlier, Neil O’Donnell’s crippling interceptions in Super Bowl XXX or Kordell Stewart’s inability to perform at a high level in both the 1997 and 2001 AFC Championship games, it seemed the Steelers’ just couldn’t find a passer who had “it,” that magical mojo that all the greats seemed to possess.
Finally, in 2004, the Steelers decided to go after the one ingredient they had been missing for many years when they picked Roethlsiberger with the 11th selection in that year’s NFL Draft.
Even though he was slated to be the third string quarterback behind starter Tommy Maddox and back up Charlie Batch in his rookie campaign, because of injuries to both, Roethlisberger was thrust into action in Week 2 against the Ravens and was named the starter in Miami in Week 3.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Roethlisberger was protected by a dominant ground game and a number one overall defense, as he guided Pittsburgh to a 15-1 record (first AFC team to achieve that mark) and a trip to the the postseason.
In the playoffs, it was quite apparent that the spotlight was a little too big for Ben, as he struggled in both the divisional playoff win against the Jets and in the loss to New England in the AFC Championship game.
Much like the Malones, Bristers and Stewarts, before him, Roethlisberger was dwarfed by the talents of the quarterback opposing him, as Tom Brady surgically led the Patriots to the Super Bowl for the third time in four seasons.
However, from that moment on, Roethlisberger would rarely be the second-best quarterback on the field, as he would lead his team to three Super Bowls over the next six seasons, helping the Steelers win their fifth and sixth Lombardi trophies.
Because he’s never quite fit the mold of what most coaches and scouts want in a quarterback (a true pocket-passer who sticks to the script and doesn’t improvise), Roethlisberger often gets ranked behind most other elite quarterbacks when such discussions arise. But there’s never been a reason to deny he belongs in the group, as his championship success and career numbers clearly demonstrate.
You can place Roethlisberger behind Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Brady, and any other similarly successful quarterback you’d like, just as long as you recognize he’s one of the few passers in the NFL that instantly gives his team credibility and gives it a boost in terms of Super Bowl legitimacy.
If you don’t recognize that, then you fail to see a truly great quarterback.
Many things had to come together for the Steelers to become one of the great teams of the previous decade—it would be foolish not to recognize the many great contributions from the front office, the coaching staff, and, of course, the other great players–but we wouldn’t be wearing “Got Six?” t-shirts in Pittsburgh if it wasn’t for Ben Roethlisberger’s arrival 10 years ago.
To borrow and add to what Bradshaw said in a feature on “The History of the Steelers” DVD: You can lose with a franchise quarterback, but with very few exceptions, you’ll never win without one.
A franchise quarterback is a gift no fan should ever take for granted.