Ben Roethlisberger is on the precipice of becoming the most storied quarterback in Pittsburgh Steelers history.
You could argue he’s already there, though not exactly in terms of jewelry.
And he could be closing in on the all-time greats.
Former Steelers great Terry Bradshaw is a polarizing figure in the Steel City. Some may say he’s even revered as something more than a legend, placed upon whatever that next echelon may be. And the relationship between he and Roethlisberger has been one largely founded on the criticism Bradshaw has publicly slung in light of Roethlisberger’s legal troubles.
But Bradshaw, who threw only two fewer interceptions (210) than touchdowns (212) in his 14 seasons in Pittsburgh, was so awash in a sea of future Hall of Famers that his esteemed teammates further muted the minimal noise created by his underwhelming statistics.
Roethlisberger is by no means a one-man show, but Hines Ward, Jerome Bettis, and Troy Polamalu would be hard-pressed to evoke as much nostalgia as Joe Greene, Mike Webster, Lynn Swann, Mel Blount, Jack Lambert, and Franco Harris.
Bradshaw's two superbowl MVP awards are two more than Roethlisberger's total, but Big Ben won more games in his first five seasons (51) than any other quarterback in history. During that span in their respective careers, Roethlisberger threw for 53 more touchdowns and 12 fewer interceptions than Bradshaw.
Roethlisberger owns team records in touchdown passes in a season (32), passer rating in a season (104.1), and career completion percentage (63.1), a mark that excludes last week’s game against Baltimore.
Alas, it's titles, not metrics, that serve as the ultimate benchmark of greatness.
If Roethlisberger wins a third Super Bowl title against either Chicago or Green Bay on Feb. 6, he’ll still be one ring shy of Bradshaw, who is tied with Joe Montana for the most among quarterbacks in NFL history.
That said, at age 28, Roethlisberger will be three years younger than Bradshaw was at the time of his third championship and four years younger than Montana, who won Super Bowl XXIII as a cagy 32-year-old.
Even if Roethlisberger does not play past the age of 35, given the manner in which the Steelers draft and contend each season, he has an excellent chance at that magical fourth championship.
Although nothing in the NFL is guaranteed, time is on his side. When it’s all said and done, Roethlisberger could be considered more successful – not to be confused with better – than both Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, his two largest modern measuring sticks.
But will a third Super Bowl title, or perhaps more, extricate Roethlisberger from the reputation he has earned for himself off the field?
It probably doesn’t matter. For the most part, fans are level-headed enough to separate greatness on the field from transgression off it.
Roethlisberger, unlike Manning and Brady, is not a choir boy who endorses a million products or attends Broadway shows with a supermodel wife.
Though claims have never been substantiated, Roethlisberger has twice been accused of sexual assault. The latest incident occurred in March of 2010 and resulted in a four-game suspension handed down by the league, as well as rumors that the Steelers may be looking to shop their Pro—Bowl quarterback.
Bradshaw, who admitted to “learning not to like” Roethlisberger, even offered some very pointed advice.
The smoke-and-fire principal may apply, but Roethlisberger’s propensity for putting himself in the wrong place at the wrong time doesn’t diminish the fact that he ranks eighth all-time on the NFL’s career passer rating list.
Nor will it dull the luster of another Lombardi Trophy.