Big Ben’s last ride

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger holds the Vince Lombardi trophy after defeating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on February 1, 2009 as owner Dan Rooney (R) and head coach Mike Tomlin (2nd R) look on.

Throughout the 2000’s the NFL went through a period of consistency in the AFC that the league hadn’t seen previously. Three quarterbacks represented the conference in the Superbowl for most of that time, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger. Brady needs no introduction with the most Superbowl wins by any player and Manning is considered by many to be the best pure quarterback that ever played, but then there is Roethlisberger. Ben is probably not what most people think of when they think of dominate quarterbacks, especially compared with the company he is associated with on the previous list. However, to many fans he is one of the last holdouts of that era, and he has strongly hinted at his retirement at the end of this season.

                My family has always been Pittsburgh Steelers fans. My dad grandfathered me into it as soon as I showed any interest in the sport, which coincidently lined up with the Steelers second Superbowl win of the 2000’s. I vividly remember the lead up to that game. Many of my classmates were pulling for the Arizona Cardinals in their first Superbowl appearance while I was simply wanting to see my favorite win one. I was unaware of the all-time Steeler teams of the time, those lead by Bradshaw and Stallworth with the fearsome Steel Curtain anchored by Mean Joe Greene and Jack Lambert. What I did know was the 2008 Steelers would always make some crazy defensive stop as Troy Polomalu would come from seemingly out of nowhere to intercept a pass, or James Harrison would get the sack at the perfect moment. If for some reason the Steeler defense didn’t make the play, I knew that somehow Ben would shake off three tacklers and hit a wide-open wide receiver to win the game. All these expectations came to fruition in that Superbowl, with Harrison returning the longest defensive score in Superbowl history, and Ben hitting Santonio Holmes in the corner of the endzone to win the Superbowl. I felt like those guys would play forever. As I got older though I found out that isn’t what happens to athletes.

                Slowly but surely those players would leave the team, some quicker than others. Harrison for example played for the Bengals for a while before coming back to the Steelers (he finished his career with the Patriots but that hurts to talk about.) Polomalu started to suffer injuries that would leave him sidelined and inevitably force his retirement. Before long the only player from that team was Ben, and with how long quarterbacks play now, I thought that maybe he would keep going. Last year there were rumors that Ben was contemplating retirement, it made sense he had just come off Tommy Johns surgery and was behind a frankly not great offensive line. He changed his mind though even after the team lost to the Browns in the playoffs for the first time in a longtime. The offseason this year wasn’t much better for the Steelers somehow our offensive line had gotten even worse, and our offense had been figured out. Somehow, the Steelers persevered past all that to reach the playoffs this year. So, Ben is sticking around till at least a probable playoff exit, but its bittersweet. I get to see the guy I’ve grown up watching go out in the postseason, but at the same time I will be losing a piece of my childhood as the last player from that team is gone. I wonder if my father felt similar bittersweet feelings when Lambert hung it up.