In the summer of 2010, my first book will be coming out in stores entitled “100 Things Every Steelers Fan Should Know Before They Die.” The book, which is being published by Triumph Books, will be in stores next Summer and will retail for $14.95. We will have ordering info through Amazon as soon as it becomes available.
In the meantime, through the offseason, we’ll give Steelers Gab readers a sneak peek of some chapters of the book. Today is chapter 54, which talks about the amazing rookie season of Ben Roethlisberger in which the QB led the team to the AFC Championship Game. Enjoy!
Tommy Maddox had stepped in and manned the front for the Steelers in the 2002 and 2003 seasons, and to his credit, had done some amazing things. He helped the team reach the playoffs in the 02 season, and even won a shootout over the Browns 36-33 in an AFC Wild Card game.
In 03 though, the bottom dropped out on Maddox and the club. The team took on a pass happy look on offense, and quickly things went south as the team went 6-10. Bill Cowher knew that a change had to be made, and the club moved swiftly in the offseason just to do that.
The 2004 NFL Draft saw a number of high profile quarterbacks enter the draft. Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger were the biggest names, and would have been a shock to see one of them drop down to the Steelers at 11, but that’s exactly what happened.
The club had the chance to take the 6-foot-5, 241-pound, Lima, Ohio native in Roethlisberger, and they jumped at the chance. The team had not drafted a quarterback in the first round since Mark Malone in 1980, and in the teams history they had only drafted a QB in the first round five times before Roethlisberger’s arrival.
The early thought process was that Roethlisberger would learn from veteran quarterbacks in Maddox and his backup, the arriving Charlie Batch. How quickly things would change. Batch was injured in the preseason, pushing Roethlisberger up to the backup role. After an opening day win over Oakland, Maddox and the club went into Baltimore in week two.
The Ravens beat up Maddox, and in the third quarter he was hit from behind, hurting his elbow and forcing Roethlisberger into the game. The rookie threw two TD’s, but it was too little too late as the Steelers fell 30-13. It was the last and only time the team would lose in the regular season.
Roethlisberger took over the team, and took over the NFL by storm. He started his first game the following week in Miami in a hurricane, and helped the team to a 13-3 victory. The next week vs the Bengals he threw for 174 yards and a score as the team moved to 3-1 with a 28-17 win.
The league really started to take notice the next week vs the Browns at home. Missing on just five passes, the rookie threw for 231 yards and a score as the Steelers rolled to 4-1 with a 34-23 win. The roll continued with a comeback win vs Dallas the next week on the road, as Roethlisberger put up a QB rating of 125.5 with two TD’s.
He cemented his early rise to fame two weeks later, as he and the team stopped the Patriots NFL record 21-game win streak with a 34-20 win as again Roethlisberger shined, throwing for 196 yards and two scores.
The wins kept coming, the next week it was the one-loss Eagles who the Steelers beat up 27-3, then it was Cleveland again to move to 8-1 with a 24-10 road victory. Many seemed to think that Roethlisberger was simply managing the team to wins, but at the same time, no rookie QB had ever been able to put together such a win streak.
By the time the end of December rolled around, Roethlisberger and the team were 14-1 entering the final game of the year. He sat against Buffalo, but the backups led the club to a 29-24 win to finish the year at 15-1, only the fourth team in NFL history since the league adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978 to finish with such a record.
The only downfall to the rookie season of Roethlisberger was the fact that when the divisional playoffs started two weeks later, he was mentally and physically drained. He didn’t play well at home vs the Jets, and threw two picks and needed some late heroics as the team survived in OT 20-17.
A rematch with the Patriots the following week awaited. Again, Roethlisberger struggled, as did the rest of the club as New England walked out of Heinz Field with a 41-27 win. It was a tough lesson for Roethlisberger and the team, but one they would learn from the following year when the then 23-year old became the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl.
Despite the setback in the AFC Title game in 2004, Roethlisberger’s rookie season cemented the fact the Steelers pick of the franchise quarterback was one that put two more Lombardi trophies in the Steelers front office over the next four seasons.
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