These men were the quarterbacks from the time Terry Bradshaw hung up his cleats until the time Ben Roethlisberger became No. 1 QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
These men before Big Ben took up a total of 20 years of quarterbacking duties, and for the most part the Steelers and their fans as a whole suffered for it greatly. I want Steelers fans to remember these names. I’m sure some are more forgettable then others, but as a whole, they are worth remembering: Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone, David Woodley, Tood Blackledge, Bubby Brister, Mike Tomczak, Kent Graham, Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox. There are a few more names but you’re getting the picture.
I’m not even going to go into depth on how the Steelers passed up Dan Marino in the 1983 NFL Draft, especially after watching the ESPN documentary on that year’s legendary quarterback class. It still makes me sick to my stomach.
There is no guarantee Marino’s career would have flourished like it did in Miami, but I strongly believe that it could not have been worse than the play the Steelers got for their quarterback position over the course of those 20 years. No matter, as the past cannot be changed.
It’s the present and the future that we are here to discuss today. Specifically Ben Roethlisberger and how many more years we have left for No. 7 try to bring a couple more Lombardi Trophies back to the Steel City.
Big Ben will be entering his 10th year in the league. Over the course of his career, he has completed a full season without missing any games only once. Since he has entered the league, he has been sacked a total of 344 times. Some of them have come as a result of porous offensive lines and some as a result of Ben doing what he does best and extending plays as only he can do.
Some of those sacks have not been too bad. Others would have broken most quarterbacks in two. Anyone remember the Bart Scott hit on Ben a few years ago? That was one of the cleanest hits on a quarterback that I have ever seen.
Last week, Roethlisberger had minor surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee. It has already been reported that he is recovering wonderfully and he was quoted as saying that “I think I could play Sunday if I had to.” That’s great news, especially since he has quite a while before training camp begins.
While I find that comforting, it also made me think about the future. In quarterback years, he is in his prime. At 31 years old, Ben is quite capable of being statistically the best that he has ever been for the next three or four years, as long as he remains upright and healthy.
For the sake of the Steelers, he had better be. In the past if Ben went down, there was good old Charlie Batch who was capable of coming off the bench and, more often than not, picking up a win or two until Ben was back. Batch had beaten back Father Time for a few years, but his run as Ben’s backup is officially over.
Bruce Gradkowski is the new No. 2 and Landry Jones was drafted, although to my amazement, has still not signed a contract. That kid is behind the 8-ball enough without holding out. His agent is definitely not doing him any favors. He was a sketchy pick at best and he needs every minute of practice and film time that he can get.
All of which finally leads us to this question, how many more years will the Steelers have Ben lining up behind the center?
First of all, I cannot in any way see Roethlisberger playing for any other team like Peyton Manning has done. I believe when the time comes for Ben to walk away, the Black and Gold will be his one and only team.
Secondly, every year the Steelers have needed cap relief, Ben always put the team first by restructuring his contract. He has stated multiple times that he will retire a Steeler.
Now, it is a business and a lot can happen between now and Big Ben walking off into sunset with his Super Bowl rings, of which Steeler fans hope he accumulates one or two more, but that brings us to who might be next. Talents like Bradshaw and Roethlisberger come along about every 20 years or so.
If Ben were to get hurt, can Gradkowski get the job done? Let’s face it, he has been a serviceable backup and sometime starter for most of his career. Jones is not even in the equation as far as I’m concerned.
There has been a lot of talk about the age of the defense, the lack of a running game, questions about the receiving corps. That’s OK because it puts off the inevitable question about the QB’s longevity.
There is no definitive answer, and the Steelers can only hope it will be a few more years, because they remember how many people the they went through before finding Big Ben.
My advice to all Steeler fans is very simple: just sit back and enjoy the ride. It may not always be smooth or pretty, but when the game is on the line, there is no other quarterback I want going for the win. Yes, that includes Brady, Manning or Rodgers. Bold statement? Maybe, but I am confident most of “Steeler Nation” feels the same way.
When training camp starts, I fully expect Roethlisberger to be 100 percent with a chip on his shoulder about last year’s 8-8 season. That’s good, because in the years after Ben is gone 8-8 might be an area in which the Steelers and their fans can become used to.
Enjoy him while you can Pittsburgh fans, nothing lasts forever. Just like there was only one Bradshaw and only one Roethlisberger, the next great Steelers quarterback – wherever he may be – will have some pretty big shoes to fill.