For 15 Days we will be counting down the Top 15 Greatest Steelers of the Bill Cowher Era. The list will have both offensive and defensive players, and in doing the list no kickers or punters were selected. Below is our number choice of the day building towards the number one Steeler of the Cowher Era.
QB Ben Roethlisberger 2004-Present:
The Steelers knew that when the April 2004 Draft was upon them there was a chance they were going to take a quarterback. The team had slumped in 2003, and no one knew if Tommy Maddox was the long term answer at the position. Many knew that he was not, and that in order to get back to being competitive, the team had better go out and find themselves a young quarterback that could lead them into the future. Welcome to Pittsburgh Ben Roethlisberger. “Big Ben” was still on the board with the number 11 pick of the draft that Saturday afternoon, and the Steelers quickly snatched the Miami of Ohio QB up. Tall, handsome, and able to make things happen with the ball in his hands, Ben was going to take over the city, and eventually the QB spot for the Black and Gold.
What no one expected was that he would be called upon the second week of the 2004 season in Baltimore. With the Steelers getting beat badly by the Ravens, Maddox was hit on the arm as he tried to throw, suffering an injury that would mark the last pass he would throw as a starter in Pittsburgh. Ben entered the game, and even though the Steelers lost, he threw two TD’s and showed a spark. He never lost again that regular season. Taking the NFL world by storm, Roethlisberger emerged on the scene like wildfire, leading the Steelers to an AFC record with 15 wins in a 16 game season. He did it all, winning in a downpour in Miami, a comeback vs the Cowboys, beating up the sorry Browns twice, taming the Bengals in Cincy and at home, dominating two of the leagues best in New England and Philly, and leading a last second game-winning drive vs the Jaguars on a Sunday night.
No one could have possibly predicted that Roethlisberger would do what he did that season. While the rest of the team lifted their game as well, Big Ben was the player who got most of the credit for the extreme Steelers turnaround that season. Upon entering the playoffs, Ben was, well, getting tired. He struggled mightily in the Steelers first home playoff game vs the Jets, and came close to blowing that game with two bad interceptions, the second of which led to a possible game-winning field goal that was wide. Ben and the Steelers managed to win the game in overtime, but there was for sure a feel that all the momentum he had during the regular season was fading.
The following week Ben had his worst game as a pro, at the worst possible time. Against the Pats in the AFC title game, Roethlisberger threw three INT’s, including one that was returned for a touchdown that put the game away before halftime that gave the Pats a 24-3 lead. Following the game Ben embraced running back Jerome Bettis, crying and pleading the back to comeback for one more season, promising him he would lead him to a championship.
While the 2005 season didn’t exactly go smoothly, Ben was good on his promise. After a scary injury during a win in San Diego that forced him to miss one game, then another knee injury that kept him out three weeks, the Steelers sat at 7-5, and on the edge of missing the playoffs. That’s when the team finally started playing up to potential, and Ben started to rebound from the injuries. Consecutive wins over the Bears, Vikings, Browns and Lions put the Steelers in the playoffs as the number six seed. No six seed had ever won the Super Bowl. It didn’t matter.
A win over the Carson Palmerless Bengals that was highlighted by a throw-back trick play that saw Ben bomb a TD to Cedric Wilson, a “one for the ages” win over the number seeded Colts on the road in a game that will forever be remembered for “the tackle” on Colts corner Nick Harper, and a blowout of the Broncos again on the road in the AFC Title game, and the Steelers were on their way to Super Bowl XL in Detroit, Bettis’ hometown. Against Seattle looking for their fifth world title, the Steelers played tight early, but a big improvised third down pass to Hines Ward started the rally, and after a Ben TD run, the Steelers led at the half 7-3. They would not be denied in the second half, as Willie Parker ran 75 yards for a score, and another trick play sealed the deal with a Ward TD as the Steelers won 21-10. Ben became the youngest QB ever to win a Super Bowl.
Four months later he almost lost his life in a scary morotcycle accident that saw his face bounce off of a car. After nine hours of surgery, his face was back together, but his career was clearly a bit damaged. The season was defined by his accident, his appendix being removed a few days before the opener, and a concussion that saw him then play the next week and lose to the worst team in the league in Oakland. A 2-6 start and hopes of making it back to the Super Bowl were over. The team rallied to make the season look respectful on paper, as they won six of their last eight to finish 8-8 in Bill Cowher’s last season as coach. Many say that Ben’s got a lot to prove this season as he comes back close to 100 percent with a new coach. For now, he still has the glow of a QB that led the Steelers to a Super Bowl win in dire circumstances.
Tomorrow: Number #13