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The End of Seven

“With the eleventh pick in the 2004 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback, Miami University.” 

Words that were celebrated by Pittsburgh Steelers fans everywhere. From 1970 through 1982 the Steelers had the pleasure of Terry Bradshaw (Hall of Fame) and didn’t need to worry about the Quarterback position. Then came the lean years. Between the 1983 season and the 2004 season, the Steelers had some distinctively average Quarterback play. 

The position was occupied by players like Mark Malone (1984-1987), Bubby Brister (1988-1991), Neil O’Donnell (1991-1995), Mike Tomczak (1996), Kordell Stewart (1997-2002), and Tommy Maddox (2002-2004). Fair to say that there wasn’t a lot of consistency at the position but mainly for the Steelers and the Rooney family there were no Super Bowl wins in this era. 

In the 1970s the Steelers built a dynasty, granted it was based on the best defense to play the sport, but still they had a Hall of Fame Quarterback leading the offense and getting the points to win championships. The city of Pittsburgh enjoyed four Super Bowl victories in 1975, 1976, 1979, and 1980 then nothing for 25 years. The man that changed that was a new breed of Quarterback. One who welcomed the tackles and made defenses pay when they couldn’t bring him down. He put on the number seven and fans have loved watching him for every minute he took to the Gridiron. 

Unfortunately, the 2021 season looks to be the end for the soon-to-be Hall of Fame Quarterback but let’s not cry over what could have been let’s just look back and enjoy what Ben Roethlisberger did for the Pittsburgh Steelers storied franchise.

24 April 2004: Ben Roethlisberger selected 11th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2004 NFL Draft at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY. (Photo by Bob Leverone/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

College Career

After growing up in Ohio, Roethlisberger attended College at Miami University and would go on to break every record a Quarterback possibly could. In his final season as a Redhawk, Roethlisberger would lead his team to a victory in the GMAC Bowl and a ranking of 10 in the Associated Press poll. He finished the year with 343 completions, 4,486 yards, and 37 passing touchdowns.

He broke the single-season school records in all three categories and was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year for the 2003 season. On October 13th, 2007, the Miami University made his number seven jersey the third jersey they have ever retired and the first for 34 years.

Roethlisberger finished college with over 10,000 passing yards 80 passing touchdowns and seven rushing touchdowns and broke every Quarterback record at Miami University. Primed to make an impact in the NFL.

Life In The NFL

Roethlisberger was believed to be the second most sought-after Quarterback in the 2004 NFL draft behind only Eli Manning. Big Ben was expected to be drafted by the New York Giants but we all know how what happened there.

Soon to be divisional rivals, the Cleveland Browns, would not take the opportunity to draft number seven and he would drop to the Pittsburgh Steelers at number eleven. The Rooneys made Roethlisberger the highest pick they had used on a quarterback since they drafted Terry Bradshaw in 1970. It was in fact Dan Rooney himself who made the decision to draft Big Ben:

“I couldn’t bear the thought of passing on another great Quarterback prospect the way we had passed on Dan Marino in 1983, so I steered the conversation around to Roethlisberger.” 

Said Dan Rooney in his autobiography.

In the 2004 NFL draft, he was the third quarterback selected out of 17 but he would go on to be the best in the NFL and be the longest-serving Quarterback from the draft. The plan for the Steelers was for Roethlisberger to be the third-string Quarterback but injuries and poor play meant he got his first action in the second game of the season. He threw his first touchdown pass at the home of the divisional rivals Baltimore Ravens to Antwaan Randle El. A game the Steelers would lose but in his first start the following week, Ben Roethlisberger would win his first career NFL game.

He finished his rookie season with a record of 13-0 in games that he started. He guided the Steelers to a playoff berth after a 15-1 season. Roethlisberger would go on to win the rookie of the year award and then take on the New York Jets in the divisional round of the playoffs, his first dabble in playoff football. Although Roethlisberger didn’t play well the Steelers won the game and advanced to the AFC Championship Game. 

Unfortunately for Ben Roethlisberger that was where his dramatic rookie season would come to an end. The Steelers lost 41-27 to the soon-to-be Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.

Regardless of the outcome, the Steelers faithful knew they had a Quarterback who was capable of leading them back to the glory land. His “backyard” style of play and his toughness embodied what it meant to be Pittsburgh Steeler and the locals were able to take to him as one of their own.

Super Bowl Victories

DETROIT, MI – FEBRUARY 5: Jerome Bettis #36 of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XL February 5, 2006 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. The Steelers won the game 21-10. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

It didn’t take long for number seven to experience playoff football again. Despite having injury issues in the 2005 season (knee) Roethlisberger and the Steelers secured the last Wild Card spot with a record of 11-5. 2005 had great meaning for the Steelers, Roethlisberger and long-time servant of the Steelers Jerome “The Bus” Bettis was playing in his final season. Roethlisberger had promised Bettis that he would get him a Super Bowl ring before he retired and it just so happened that the Super Bowl would be played in Bettis’ home city of Detroit. 

Sneaking into the playoffs as the sixth seed meant that the Steelers would have to go on the road and overcome all the odds if Roethlisberger was to succeed in his promise to the bus. It would be the first time a team would ever go on to win the Super Bowl after starting as the sixth seed. In the Wild Card round the Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals to advance and play the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts.

Here comes my first favorite memory of Ben Roethlisberger. In a tightly fought match, the Steelers were leading 21-18 and on the goal line of the Colts. Another Jerome Bettis touchdown was on the cards to seal the game. Unfortunately, Bettis fumbled and the ball was recovered by Nick Harper who started running towards the Steeler’s end zone. Not to break his promise to Bettis, Roethlisberger tracked the Colts player, and whilst falling to the ground he tackled Harper at the Colts 40-yard line. Pittsburgh was able to see out the win and Roethlisberger’s promise to Bettis would survive to the AFC Championship game and a meeting with the Denver Broncos. In the words of the great Tunch Ilkin:

“Call up the travel agent and remake those reservations, we’re going to Denver.”

Thankfully for the Steelers, the AFC Championship game was a bit less dramatic. Ben Roethlisberger finished the game with 21 passes completed out of 29, 275 yards and two touchdown passes. The last play of the game was a bootleg run for Roethlisberger that gave the Steelers a 34-17 win. In just his second season in the league the Miami University product had led his team all the way to the Super Bowl. 

Seattle was the team that stood between Roethlisberger and him becoming the youngest ever Quarterback to win the Super Bowl. Despite the fact that Roethlisberger put on the worst passing display ever seen by a Quarterback in a Super Bowl (9/21, 123 yards, two interceptions, 22.8 passer rating) the Steelers would go on to win 21-10. Despite his horrific performance he converted on eight third-down attempts including a 28-yard strike to Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward. 

Finally, the Steelers were back where they belonged at the pinnacle of this great sport. It had been a long road for the Rooney family to get there but it was well worth the wait. A fifth Lombardi was delivered by Coach Bill Cowher and the new Quarterback and Dan Rooney knew that he had made the right decision by drafting big number seven.

New Head Coach

KANSAS CITY, MO – DECEMBER 26: Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talks with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) on the sidelines during an NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs on Dec 26, 2021 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After a down year in 2006 (Roethlisberger missed some time after a motorcycle crash), Bill Cowher departed the Steelers and in came the new head coach Mike Tomlin. Thus began the impressive 15 years that Tomlin and Roethlisberger put together. In Week One for the first time in his career, Roethlisberger had a four-touchdown game. The Steelers reached the Wild Card round in the first season with Tomlin and Roethlisberger but lost out to the Jacksonville Jaguars (not the last time this would happen). Number Seven was voted to his first Pro Bowl and the Steelers finished the season with another winning record. 

March 4, 2008, saw Ben Roethlisberger sign an eight-year contract with the Steelers and was the beginning of another historic season for the Quarterback. The Pittsburgh Steelers led by number seven would go on to win the AFC North with a record of 12-4. Roethlisberger threw for 3301 yards and 17 touchdowns. Up next was another trip to the playoffs and a divisional-round matchup against the Phillip Rivers-led San Diego Chargers. Despite being picked higher than Roethlisberger in the 2004 draft Rivers could not lead his team to a victory at Heinz Feild. Roethlisberger, and that Steelers defense, led the team to a 35-24 win and a matchup with fierce rivals the Baltimore Ravens.

Despite it being a fierce rivalry the Ravens were never in this game. After a 65 yard pass to Santonio Holmes, Roethlisberger had the Steelers sitting comfortably with a 13 point lead early in the second quarter. Pittsburgh was able to see the game out and set up a date with the Arizona Cardinals in Tampa Bay, Florida.

Ben Roethlisberger’s second Super Bowl victory provided my second memory of the star Quarterback. A back and forth game resulted in the Steelers being down 23-20 with two minutes and 37 seconds remaining. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Ben Roethlisberger started on his own 22-yard line and would lead the Steelers on one of the greatest game-winning drives in history.

A holding penalty sent the Steelers back to their own 12-yard line and finally, Roethlisberger found a completion to Santonio Holmes (not the last one either). Coming out of the two-minute warning the Steelers had a third and six on their own 26-yard line. Santonio Holmes caught his second catch of the drive to keep them moving at the 38-yard line (see the common theme here). On second and six from the Cardinals 47-yard line Roethlisberger completed a short pass to, yes you guessed it, Santonio Holmes that he took all the way to the Cardinals seven-yard line. 

With 49 seconds left in the Super Bowl the Steelers had first and goal at the seven-yard line. First and goal saw an incomplete pass to Santonio Holmes at the back left of the end zone. The next play would go down as the greatest play in Super Bowl history. With 43 seconds left, Roethlisberger was in the gun with Holmes lined up in the slot. Roethlisberger took the snap and stood in the pocket with great protection. He found his favorite receiver at the back right of the end zone behind three Cardinals defenders and put the ball where only Holmes could get it. Santonio Holmes reeled in the greatest catch of all time and just got his toes down in the end zone to secure a sixth Super Bowl for the Pittsburgh Steelers and a second for Ben Roethlisberger.

In their second season together Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger had led the Steelers to Super Bowl glory and they became the first franchise to have six Lombardi trophies in their trophy cabinet. 

Pittsburgh finished the 2009 season with a record of 9-7 but missed out on the playoffs and the chance to win back-to-back Super Bowls. It wouldn’t take long for them to be back in the Greatest Sporting Event in the World.

Despite missing the first four games of the season after being suspended, Roethlisberger led his team to a 12-4 record and another AFC North title. It was in this season that his connection with Antonio Brown was born. Roethlisberger would lead his team all the way to Super Bowl XLV and take on the Green Bay Packers. Unfortunately, Roethlisberger could not complete a fourth-quarter comeback and he lost 31-25 to the Packers. Speaking after the game Roethlisberger said, “ I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down”. I don’t think anyone would have said this would be the last trip to the Super Bowl that number seven would make.

2011 – 2021

In Week 13 of the 2011 season, Roethlisberger passed Hall of Fame Steelers Quarterback Terry Bradshaw for most times sacked and most pass completions in Steelers history. In the 2012 season, the Steelers finished with a record 8-8 and Roethlisberger missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Despite throwing for 4,261 yards in 2013 the Steelers finished 8-8 again and missed out on the playoffs for back-to-back years. A first for Ben Roethlisberger and not something Steelers fans are used to.

In 2014 Roethlisberger put together two of the greatest statistical Quarterback games ever. In Week 8 against the Indianapolis Colts, Roethlisberger completed 40 of 49 passes for 522 yards and six touchdowns. In the following week, he followed that up with another 340 passing yards and six touchdowns in a win against the Baltimore Ravens. 

In Week 15 of the 2014 season, he became only the sixth quarterback to have defeated 31 other teams in the NFL joining Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Kerry Collins, and Peyton Manning. Roethlisberger won the AFC North again but lost out in the first round of the playoffs. He was named to his third Pro Bowl after the 2014 season.

Roethlisberger led the Steelers back to the playoffs in 2015 and beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos in the divisional round. Roethlisberger was once again voted to his fourth Pro Bowl.

In 2016, Roethlisberger would continue his dominance of the AFC North with yet another division title and an 11-5 record. He would lead his team all the way to the AFC Championship Game where he would once again lose to the eventual Super Bowl Champions. This time it was the New England Patriots. 

During the 2017 season, Ben Roethlisberger became the eighth Quarterback to reach the 50,000 passing yards mark. In Week 14 of the season, he also became the first Quarterback to ever have three games with more than 500 passing yards. In Week 15, against the New England Patriots, Roethlisberger led his team on what should have been a game-winning drive before the officials ruled out a perfectly acceptable catch to Jesse James in the end zone. The Steelers would finish the season with another AFC title and a 13-3 record. The Killer B’s (Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell) had a playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars that they would go on to lose. Arguably the greatest offense that Roethlisberger has ever had as a Pittsburgh Steeler. He was voted to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl. 

Roethlisberger would not make it to the playoffs again until the 2020 season where he lost in the Wild Card Round to the Cleveland Browns after winning the AFC North. At the time of writing the Steelers and Roethlisberger have not won a playoff game since the end of the 2016 season. Not what Roethlisberger is used to. 

Roethlisberger and the Steelers would not make it to another Super Bowl after the loss to the Green Bay Packers but they have never had a losing season. Number seven played for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 18 years and is the longest-serving player to play for one team and one team only. A truly remarkable stat. In his time as the starter in Pittsburgh, he has set numerous records and has dominated the AFC North. 

He has finished with eight AFC North titles in his 18-year career. He holds a record of 67-22-1 against his divisional rivals and a win percentage of .750%. He is 17-10 against the Baltimore Ravens, 24-10 against the Cincinnati Bengals, and 26-2-1 against the Cleveland Browns. You would be forgiven for not thinking the Bengals and Browns especially are actually rivals of the Steelers. 

He is fifth all-time on the career Quarterback win chart with 165 and above him are either Hall of Fame Quarterbacks or soon-to-be Hall of Fame Quarterbacks. He boasts a career win percentage of .670%. He is currently fifth on the all-time passing yards list as well with 64,088 yards. Above him are the same players as in the total number of wins list.

Needless to say, number seven has kept Steelers fans entertained throughout his illustrious 18-year career. Despite always seemingly being forgotten about by the National Media and always made out to be worse than he is, Roethlisberger is without a doubt a first-ballot Hall of Fame candidate and will live long in the memory of every Steeler fan and in Canton, Ohio. A fitting ending for a young Quarterback from Ohio.

Thank You Seven.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – JANUARY 16: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts as he walks off the field after being defeated by the Kansas City Chiefs 42-21 in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 16, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

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Thanks for reading my article on the career of Ben Roethlisberger. For more great NFL content, follow me on Twitter @Steelers_Mark and also follow @OTH_Football. Go check out the amazing work that our guys are doing on the Overtime Heroics Podcast.

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