Nobody expected a lot from the kid out of Miami University in Ohio when he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2004 draft. Granted, he had set every major passing record at the school in his three years as the starting quarterback and even led the team to an unbeaten record, a top-10 ranking, and a victory over Louisville in the 2003 GMAC Bowl.
But Miami University is a run-of-the-mill Mid America Conference college, not known for producing a slew of top notch NFL players. It's two most prominent luminaries are—were—John Pont and Bob Hitchens, both of whom made their names in the college coaching ranks.
Besides, the Pittsburgh Steelers had the resurgent Tommy Maddox, who had taken over for the failed Kordell Stewart just a couple of years earlier. "Tommy Gun" was doing just fine in the role of starting quarterback.
But Maddox went down to injury in the second game of the 2004 season, and Ben Roethlisberger, who the Steelers had intended to build slowly, was forced under center, having been elevated to the second string role due to an injury to perennial backup quarterback Charlie Batch in the preseason.
Week in and week out from that point on, he was criticized at every turn.
It'll never work, detractors cried. He's too big, too slow.
He isn't accurate. He couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.
He moves around too much; he's gonna get sacked, then hurt, and then it will all be over for him.
He holds the ball too long; his receivers can't run around out there forever.
But a funny thing was happening: He kept winning.
Sure, everyone talked about how he was just managing the game. That excuse is bandied about by detractors who have nothing better to cling to when the target of their criticism one-ups them by defying their predictions.
In fact, Big Ben, as he quickly came to be called, won every game he started in the regular season that year: a perfect 13-0 rookie record. During that run, he bested such luminaries as Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb, and Eli Manning, putting on such an impressive display that he was selected as the Rookie of the Year, marking the first time in 34 years a quarterback had been given that award.
He had a slight hiccup in the playoffs, losing in the AFC Championship game, but hey, he was, after all, a rookie.
The very next year he led the Steelers to an 11-5 record, which earned them a sixth seed in the AFC playoffs. Working under the obligation of a promise he made to star running back Jerome Bettis at the end of the previous season, Roethlisberger took the Steelers to the Super Bowl, an improbable feat from the last seed in the playoffs.
Sure, his performance in his first Super Bowl leaves quite a lot to be desired; his 22.6 passer rating was a historical worst for a winning quarterback. But as a fabulous game manager, Big Ben came up, well, big when he had to, converting eight times on third down to keep drives going, and even scoring one of Pittsburgh's three touchdowns.
At 23 years old, he became the youngest quarterback to earn a Super Bowl victory.
Still, his detractors pointed out, he didn't really do anything to help the Steelers win. In fact, they said, he almost lost it for them. And he still runs around with the ball too much. He won't last long at all in this league.
Except, dang it all, he has.
After nearly killing himself during the offseason in a motorcycle accident, Roethlisberger's performance was noticeably off during the following year, with the Steelers going 8-8 in 2006.
The 2007 campaign was significantly better; Pittsburgh ended the year with a 10-6 record, and Ben had his most prolific passing year of his career, with 32 touchdowns and a 104.1 passer rating for the year.
Unfortunately, the Steelers came up two points short of advancing past the first round of the playoffs, losing to Jacksonville 31-29.
Then 2008 rolled around. Roethlisberger still had his detractors, but some of them were beginning to sing a different tune. Yes, he holds onto the ball for a long time, but if he got a little better protection up front maybe he could get rid of it from the pocket.
Yes, he keeps getting sacked, but he's huge and makes more guys miss; he can get out of situations that would cripple other guys.
He's still slow, but he doesn't have to be fast because one guy can't take him down.
In what is becoming typical Roethlisberger fashion, he set out to prove his critics wrong. With strong support from the running game—the exact opposite of what the Steelers reputation has been for years—a stifling defense, and a rookie head coach, Ben led the Steelers to a 12-4 record and No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
This time they didn't squander home field advantage as they had in the past. This time, opponents came to town and left disappointed.
This time, Pittsburgh played the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh, completed a three-game season sweep of the Baltimore Ravens, and went on to defeat the Arizona Cardinals in one of the most exciting, high-flying, back and forth Super Bowl battles in NFL history.
Big Ben redeemed his prior appearance in fine fashion, going 21-of-30 for 256 yards, his sole touchdown coming with 35 seconds remaining in the game, a six-yard fade to Santonio Holmes that ended up being the game-winning score.
Oh, and his rating? A more than respectable 93.2.
Not bad for a kid from Miami, OH.
This year's campaign has been more of the same, including a 419-yard effort against the Cleveland Browns, who used to be a fierce rival for the Steelers. Apparently someone has taken the bite out of the dog this year.
Roethlisbergers' record going into his sixth season speaks for itself, and what it says is that the guy wearing No. 7 deserves to be considered one of the best.
One hundred and eleven touchdowns.
Twenty come-from-behind victory drives.
A career passer rating of 90.9 (best among Steelers quarterbacks, including Hall of Fame QB Terry Bradshaw).
Two Super Bowl wins.
Thirty-two games with passer ratings over 100.
Ten games with 300+ passing yards
Two games with 400+ passing yards.
Fifty-five wins in his first five seasons.
How much more do people want? When will it be enough? When will he get the respect he is due?
Is he a little arrogant? Sure he is; he has spent six years in the NFL hearing people talk about how he'll never be able to sustain his success, all evidence to the contrary. I'd get a little snippy about that, too.
Does he do some things he shouldn't on the field? Absolutely. Show me a quarterback who doesn't.
Fact is, he has performed at or above the level of most quarterbacks throughout the history of the NFL in his first five years in the league. And he's only getting better. For the next few years, he will be able to continue to play at his current clip. Another Super bowl—or two—is not out of the question.
All you haters out there, it's time to let go of the hate. this guy is good, and if your team traded for him next year you'd start dreaming about the Super Bowl.
It's okay, you can admit it. We won't be too hard on you.
We are Steelers fans, so we will be a little tough. But that's just our way of welcoming you into the fold.