Ben Roethlisberger is a man who is used to defying the odds, but this latest chapter in a so far storied career just might earn Roethlisberger the unimaginable; a rightful place in the same sentence with the NFL’s most legendary quarterbacks of all time.
From his massive stature to his off-the-field woes, his college career to his place among the Steelers greats, one thing remains certain: there has never been a shortage of words to describe the quarterback known to most as “Big Ben”. Though at times exalting, those words soon turned to sludge after yet another turbulent off-season led to an early-season suspension. However, Big Ben will now have the opportunity to speak for himself by capturing his third Super Bowl ring in just seven years, a feat achieved by only four other quarterbacks in NFL history; Joe Montana (four), Terry Bradshaw (four), Troy Aikman (three) and Tom Brady (three).
Big Ben wasn’t always a QB, though. In fact, he started off as a wide receiver back in high school and didn’t make the switch to signal-caller until his senior year. Even so, he impressed the coaches at Miami of Ohio enough to get the starting nod as a red shirt freshman, a job he would not relinquish throughout his tenure at the Division I school. After just three years under center, Roethlisberger would own all of the school’s major passing records along with a slew of various MAC records as well.
With little left to accomplish at the collegiate level, Ben set his sights on the pros and became the third QB taken in the 2004 NFL Draft (11th overall), a draft class considered to be amongst the best ever. He may not have been the first quarterback selected, but today Big Ben stands out as the most accomplished of his draft class, outdistancing names such as Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Matt Schaub.
Unlike college, Big Ben didn’t start for his new team from Day One. No sir. This time it took him all of three weeks to gain the starting gig as the two QBs ahead of him on the depth chart (Charlie Batch and Tommy Maddox) went down to injuries early on.
In Week three of the 2004 season, the Steelers first round draft pick immediately began to pay dividends. The newly appointed starting QB led the team to a 13 to three victory in Miami, while throwing for the game’s only touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the game. From there, Big Ben simply took off. In fact, he and the Steelers would not lose a single game the rest of the season, yet fell short in the conference finals to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Despite the playoff loss, a Pittsburgh legend was born as the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year would ignite an entire city by going 13 to zero in his rookie season.
Year two for the young QB would do nothing to disappoint his fans. After missing four games due to injury, the Steelers would still make the playoffs as a wild card team by going 11 to five on the season (9 to three w/Roethlisberger, two to two without).
From there, Big Ben would take Pittsburgh on the road to defeat Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver (where he became the first QB ever to start two Conference Championship games in his first two seasons) before beating the higher-ranked Seattle Seahawks to win his first Super Bowl ring. The victory gave Pittsburgh their first Super Bowl win since Terry Bradshaw won his fourth ring for the franchise back in the 1979-80 season.
A Fall From Grace
What started off as a dream career would come to a crashing halt (literally) the summer before his third season began. Just outside of downtown Pittsburgh in early June, 2006, Roethlisberger was involved in a motorcycle accident that saw him flip over his bike and hit his head on the windshield of the oncoming car.
The incident left him with numerous injuries including a broken jaw, a broken nose, and a nine-inch gash along the backside of his head. However, the most serious damage Big Ben incurred this day was to that of his reputation. Not only was he not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident (which is just about the stupidest thing you could possibly do if you happen to ride a motorcycle), but he was driving without a valid motorcycle license as well. He recovered from his injuries in time to start the Steelers first three preseason games, but the attacks on his character within media circles were so widespread by this point that his prospects of redemption were all but lost.
The Steelers would end the year out of the playoffs at 8-8 as Roethlisberger compiled the worst statistical season of his career throwing 23 interceptions (with only 18 touchdowns) while ending up with a QB Rating of just 75.4, good for 21st in the league.
After putting up with the scrutiny dealt to him on a daily basis the season before, Roethlisberger was determined to turn the tides on his detractors. 2007 would see Big Ben forge the finest statistical campaign of his career as he set a new Pittsburgh Steelers record for TD passes in a season with 32 while his 104.1 QB Rating ranked second in the league. Sure, the Steelers ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs, but their 6’5”, 241-pound QB won back a great deal of respect from fans and the media in the process.
However, Roethlisberger’s road to redemption did not end there. In 2008, Ben would give the city of Pittsburgh and its far-flung fans yet another reason to jump back on his bandwagon… a second Super Bowl championship with him leading the way. The numbers he would amass over the course of the season were merely mediocre at best, but his year-long resolve and performance in the clutch were things of beauty, culminating with a six-yard, game-winning TD pass with 35 seconds left to win the final game.
His passage back into the good graces of the sporting world was complete, but staying there, he would find, was a much tougher task than he realized.
In the summer of 2009, Big Ben’s world would again come crashing down around him but this time, the aftereffects proved to be much worse. Media and fans alike would take the news hard after hearing that a civil suit was filed in the state of Nevada against Roethlisberger claiming sexual assault.
Though the allegations turned out to be false and the lawsuit thrown out, the damage had already been done. Questions of Ben’s character returned to the forefront and dominated headlines throughout the season despite his being named the team’s MVP at year’s end. His personal career bests of 4,328 passing yards along with a 66.6 completion percentage fell to the wayside and would be completely forgotten after what would happen next in March, 2010.
Roethlisberger may have been able to escape with only a damaged reputation the first time around, but when a 20-year old student claimed she was sexually assaulted in the bathroom of a Georgia nightclub less than a year later, Ben would have no chance of getting off as easily again. As it was in 2009, nothing would come of the accusations seeing that the D.A. couldn’t find enough evidence to file charges, but there were other repercussions to be had.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell levelled a six-game suspension on the Steelers QB (which was later reduced to four games), but Big Ben would also lose various sponsors along with becoming a national buffoon in the wake of his latest off-the-field indiscretion.
However, disgusted as the public and/or the media may have been, the collective memories of each fade as quick as the next headline; which is exactly what Roethlisberger is currently creating.
A Trilogy Awaits
Whether he wins his third Super Bowl ring or if a loss sends him into a tailspin, a trilogy of success or a trilogy of demise is in the offing for Big Ben. A win would give him a total of three Super Bowl victories and put the Steelers QB in one of the NFL’s rarest of circles, a list occupied by just four names; Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady and Joe Montana. His legendary status would be etched in the stoned annals of football lore while an induction into the Hall of Fame post-retirement would become a mere formality. Given his history, a loss could very well strike a knockout blow to his gigantically inflated ego and send him into a career-ending whirlwind of heartache and strife.
However things turn out, one thing is for certain: Big Ben Roethlisberger has once again piqued the interest of NFL fans and media across the nation and whatever happens this coming Super Bowl Sunday, Big Ben will forever be known as a legend of the fall.