There are days in history that people will remember as turning points. Days when something happens that alters the destiny for a person, a country or even a sports team.
In my case, my life changed for the better on Jan. 25, 2011 as my son Nicholas made his much-anticipated debut into the world.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of those historical dates is April 24, 2004.
That was the date of the 2004 NFL Entry Draft. It was widely speculated that the Pittsburgh Steelers coveted one of three quarterbacks at the top of the draft: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
Picking 11th overall, the Steelers were expected to trade up to get their man if they wanted any of these elite quarterbacks. The San Diego Chargers held the top overall pick, and Manning already stated he would not play for San Diego if they drafted him. Imagine the football world's shock when they did just that.
The New York Giants then drafted Rivers fourth overall and proceeded to work out a deal to swap the first-round quarterbacks.
While all of this was going on, many Steelers faithful were curious to see how this would impact our favorite team's ability to get the elite quarterback we had not seen in a Steelers uniform since Terry Bradshaw. A few more picks fell and finally, after the Houston Texans drafted Dunta Robinson, the Steeler fans could breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Paul Tagliabue stepped up to the podium to announce to the football world that Roethlisberger, from Miami (Ohio) University, had been selected by the Steelers.
Here we stand seven years later with No. 7 of the Steelers poised to give the franchise its seventh title.
For years the Steeler teams in the '90s were defined by strong defenses but led on offense by some pretty sad quarterbacks. Bubby Brister, Kent Graham, Jim Miller, Mike Tomczak and Kordell Stewart all come to mind. They made some noise and a Super Bowl appearance with Neil O'Donnell at quarterback, but that didn't end very well for them.
The team was strong enough to go far in the playoffs, but what truly held them back from being a championship team was the lack of an elite quarterback.
That all changed in 2004 with the drafting of Roethlisberger. Many scouts felt he could end up being the best quarterback of the draft, but his only knock was that he played football at a smaller school and faced easier competition.
I remember watching his highlight videos that night following the draft and being amazed at how well he threw the ball, even on the move. Despite his "lack of experience or competition," I felt in my heart he was the best choice the Steelers could make. I even had friends of opposing teams sending me congratulatory messages because they too felt Roethlisberger might turn out to be the steal of the draft.
Would the Steelers be this successful without Roethlisberger? What if they had drafted Manning, Rivers or J.P. Losman (drafted 22nd overall by the Buffalo Bills)?
Manning won a Super Bowl with the Giants, defeating the New England Patriots who were trying to finish out a historic season by going undefeated. Would he have had as much success in Pittsburgh? I think it's possible to say perhaps, but he seems to lack the ability to just take a team on his shoulders and go on multiple deep playoff runs. In other words, the Giants haven't managed to recapture that magic. The Steelers have.
Rivers is constantly mentioned as an elite quarterback in the league, and while the stats might back up some of those claims, what has he done in the playoffs when it mattered? He led the league in passing this year but the Chargers finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
Above all else, what matters the most is the drive to win and the ability to handle the pressure of the situation. Roethlisberger seems to thrive in these situations. Manning has shown flashes of this. Rivers, not so much.
Want an example of this drive? Look no further than the final drive of Super Bowl XLIII. The Arizona Cardinals had just scored the go-ahead touchdown and left about two minutes on the clock for the Steelers to work with. Roethlisberger calmly moved the team down the field before throwing one of the most memorable touchdown passes in Super Bowl history to Santonio Holmes.
I can't imagine Rivers making that drive, and especially not that throw. I also can't imagine what things would be like for the Steelers without Roethlisberger under center.
Break out the thank you notes, Steelers fans, and send a few to the general managers and owners of the Chargers and Giants. We wouldn't be in this position if things had gone differently seven years ago at the draft.