The 2020 NFL Draft is less than a week away now, although for the Pittsburgh Steelers, they will not have yet made their first pick exactly a week from now, since they have no selection in the first round after giving up that pick in exchange for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The Steelers didn’t make their natural first-round selection last year, either, but that was because they traded up to 10 to get Devin Bush. That was the highest that the Steelers have drafted since 2000. The closest that they have come in between was in 2004 following the only losing season of the Kevin Colbert era.
And it landed them Ben Roethlisberger 11th overall out of Miami of Ohio. Two teams chose Eli Manning and Philip Rivers over him. Another eight teams decided that either they didn’t need a quarterback that badly, or that he wasn’t a good enough prospect to take in the top 10.
All of a sudden, he was sitting there for Pittsburgh to take. And as the story goes, they almost didn’t take him, if not for the intervention of Dan Rooney. The Steelers wanted to take a tackle, but Rooney was haunted by the memory of passing on Dan Marino over two decades earlier, and didn’t want to make the same mistake again. He didn’t.
But it does provide some interesting context for what Roethlisberger said on the radio yesterday, recalling his draft after he happened to be watching his final college football game being broadcast on TV and noticing the mock drafts being discussed.
“I honestly didn’t think the Steelers were even in play”, he said. “They weren’t brought up one time from my agents, from the experts, or any of that kind of stuff. Everyone had their inside scoop, as they still do, when it comes to the draft and where you’re gonna get drafted, but, man, I was so blessed to get drafted and get to come here”.
Now going into his 17th season, Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl champion, in the top 10 in most of the major passing statistics of all time, and, though coming back from an elbow injury, still primed to compete for more titles as he nears the age of 40.
He wasn’t so sure if the Steelers were even that interested in him. The Steelers could have easily passed on him. So much could have been different over the course of the past decade and a half if not for that one intervention.