PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play football like a quarterback. At least not today’s quarterback.
He wasn’t running away from contact as much as he was greeting it. The harder the hits, the higher the stakes, the greater the odds, the more Roethlisberger seemed to dig during a career that saw him leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to two championships while also earning a reputation as a throwback in a city that was trying to keep itself modernized as one, although it has evolved into something far more modern.
Pittsburgh said goodbye to steel mills a long time ago. And the position that Roethlisberger has mastered so well for so long has also evolved. The game has picked up speed since the Steelers drafted him in 2004 with the 11th pick overall “Big Ben.”
No player understood that better than Röthlisberger. And what he had been hinting at for months became a reality on Thursday when he announced his retirement “Time to clean out my locker, hang up my studs” After 18 seasons, two Super Bowls, countless team records and a place in the Hall of Fame, it’s all but certain.
“I don’t know how to put into words what the game of football meant to me and what a blessing it was.” said Roethlisberger, 39, in a video message. “But I know with confidence that I gave everything for the game. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for what it has given me.”
The announcement came less than two weeks after Pittsburgh’s lopsided loss to Kansas City in the first round of the postseason, the 12th time in Roethlisberger’s career that the Steelers made the playoffs.
He hinted ahead of his final game at Heinz Field that it was time for him to move on and spend more time with his wife, Ashley, and their three children. He made it his mission to embrace the moment after the Jan. 3 win over the Browns and do a victory lap of sorts before disappearing into the tunnel surrounded by his family.
Roethlisberger described the journey that took him from northwestern Ohio to Pittsburgh in five years, almost certainly to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio “exhilarating.”
It was also very successful.
The Steelers never saw a losing season during Roethlisberger’s tenure, conquering Super Bowls 40 and 43 – the latter coming in with a touchdown pass via the outstretched hands of a Sea of Arizona defender to Santonio Holmes in the back corner in the closing seconds end zone .
“Wearing this jersey with my brothers every Sunday will always be one of the greatest joys of my life.” he said.
Roethlisberger’s private life, in contrast to his professional life, was more complicated. He wasn’t wearing a helmet when he broke his jaw and nose in a motorcycle accident in 2006, shortly after becoming the youngest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl.
He has been charged twice with sexual assault, once in 2009 and again in 2010. A civil case against him over a 2009 Lake Tahoe incident was settled out of court. A Georgia woman claimed he assaulted her at a bar in March 2010, but prosecutors have not formally charged him, partly out of concern that the case could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The NFL suspended him for six games in the 2010 season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, although it was later reduced to four. He returned to lead the Steelers to the Super Bowl, a loss to Green Bay.
The second half of his career, both as a player and as a person, was in stark contrast to the first half. Known more for its sturdiness “Ben is Ben” Approaching the game in his 20s, he was transforming into one of the best passers in the league in his 30s. He twice led the league in yards passing and was eliminated in the all-time top 10 in yards passing (64,088) and touchdown passes (418).
Roethlisberger posted a 165-81-1 record as a starter, the highest in franchise history and the fifth-highest of all time.
The Steelers won the AFC North eight times with their trusted No. 7 behind center, and Big Ben seemed to thrive when the game and sometimes the season were at stake. His 41 fourth-quarter comebacks rank third behind Peyton Manning (43) and Tom Brady (41).
Roethlisberger, long valued for his tenacity and playing through significant pain, suffered only one serious injury. He missed almost the entire 2019 season after tearing ligaments in his right elbow in Week 2 against Seattle.
He returned in 2020 and led the Steelers to an 11-0 start and a division title, throwing for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions. However, the season ended on a four-interception performance in a playoff home loss to Cleveland.
While teammates and good friends Maurkice Pouncey and Vance McDonald retired, Roethlisberger returned behind a nearly completely rebuilt offensive line for one last run. The Steelers stuttered for long stretches, with Roethlisberger looking his age at times.
Still, there were flashes of Old Ben, not Old Ben, perhaps most notably in a 20-19 win over Baltimore in early December, where he threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to defeat the rival Ravens. Despite offensive limitations, the Steelers managed to carve out a playoff berth despite an erratic 9-7-1 season.
After that, the player, who has flirted with retirement on several occasions in recent years, appeared to acknowledge that this would be his last season in black and gold. He spoke at length in December about the need to pass on “The Steel Way” to his teammates, nearly all of whom were at least a decade younger, and made it a point to pass the baton to Cam Heyward after he fell against the Chiefs.
His retirement caps a career that began when Dan Rooney insisted the Steelers put him in the 2004 draft. Pittsburgh expected Roethlisberger to bid his time behind starter Tommy Maddox. Then Maddox went down against Baltimore in Week 2 and a raw 22-year-old Roethlisberger took over.
In the end, the Steelers lost that game. They didn’t do it again with Roethlisberger at the wheel for the rest of the regular season. He was named Offensive Rookie of the Year after leading the Steelers to a 15-1 record. The perfect start came to an abrupt end when they lost to New England in the AFC Championship game.
A year later, the Steelers won their fifth Super Bowl by recording three straight road wins in the playoffs, including an upset against Indianapolis in the divisional round, aided by Roethlisberger’s narrow tackle on Colts defenseman Nick Harper after a late fumble by running back Jerome bettis
Like Bettis, Roethlisberger hoped the final year of his career would end on a confetti-strewn field with the Vince Lombardi Trophy in hand.
It didn’t happen as the Steelers were trying to rebuild on the fly a quarterback who was much closer to coach Mike Tomlin’s age than most of the 20-year-olds who surrounded him in the group.
Roethlisberger emphasized that he was fine with his decision to return in 2021 and finally leave:
“I’m stepping down from football as a really grateful man.”
This story has been corrected to show that Roethlisberger’s second title in Super Bowl 43, not 46, came at the end of the 2005 season.
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