Sports are back. The Pittsburgh Steelers are back and most importantly, Ben Roethlisberger is back. Roethlisberger is making his return from an elbow injury that costed him majority of last season. The 38-year old is looking to silence any outside noise over his health and longevity, the only problem is most of us are going to have to wait at least another month to see him in action.
The COVID-19 pandemic has strictly reduced training camp activities and access while also completely shutting down the preseason. That means the earliest that Steelers’ fans will be able to see Big Ben throw against an actual NFL defense will have to wait until Week One. While Pittsburgh anxiously awaits the return of their quarterback from injury, I thought it would be a fun exercise to stroll down memory lane and recount other occasions in which Roethlisberger has defied the odds and battled back from injuries.
2006 – Appendix/Motorcycle Accident
The summer following the Steelers’ Super Bowl XL victory was not a summer to remember for Roethlisberger. First, there was a June motorcycle accident that resulted in multiple facial fractures. Despite the huge scare, Roethlisberger recovered in time for the preseason though another medical scare then emerged.
Just four days before the Steelers’ opening game, Roethlisberger underwent emergency appendix surgery that would sideline him for the season opener. The Steelers’ franchise quarterback managed to return in time for the team’s second game. Wearing protective padding and battling a high fever, Roethlisberger took on the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week Two, though he was largely ineffective.
While 2006 was a year to forget for Big Ben as he led the NFL in interceptions, he managed to play in every game following his Week One absence. Though he did not have the year anyone hoped for, his toughness was beginning to show.
2008 – Sprained Shoulder
Roethlisberger sprained his shoulder early in the 2008 season but was still able to suit up for a Week Three matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, though the game did little to improve his health. The Steelers’ quarterback was feasted on by the Eagles defense as he was sacked eight times. In fact, the beating was so brutal that Roethlisberger actually considered if he still wanted to continue playing football as he was driving home from the airport following the game.
Of course, Roethlisberger continued playing and put together a captivating performance just two weeks later against the Jaguars despite being listed as questionable in the week leading up to the game. The quarterback threw for over 300 yards while tossing three touchdowns and even completed one of the most impressive passes of his career as he found Hines Ward despite having a defender draped on his back.
2010 – Broken Nose
In what was surely going to be a physical matchup, the Steelers travelled to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. With both teams sitting at 8-3, this matchup would be one that would likely decide the AFC North. Roethlisberger entered the game with a sprained foot, though the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that his foot was actually broken. Roethlisberger may have entered with one broken bone but he would leave with another as he went to war with the Ravens defense.
Early in the ballgame, the Steelers’ quarterback had his nose broken when Ravens’ defensive lineman Haloti Ngata clubbed him in the helmet area. Roethlisberger walked off and his nose was visibly broken. That was no problem for the already banged up Roethlisberger as he stayed in the game and would later engineer an incredible game winning drive. One play saw him escape the grasp of Terrell Suggs for an incredible throw away which was then followed up with a game winning touchdown pass to Isaac Redman as the Steelers emerged victorious.
2011 – Ankle Injury
This was one of those moments where you had to question if Roethlisberger was in fact even mortal. Taking on the Cleveland Browns during Thursday Night Football, the Steelers’ quarterback injured his ankle and it was not a pretty sight. Worry began to spread; how bad was Ben’s ankle injury, how long would he be out for or would he play again this season?
Luckily, those questions did not take too long to be answered as Roethlisberger emerged from the tunnel following halftime. Walking gingerly, Roethlisberger played the entirety of the second half and even connected with Antonio Brown on a long touchdown pass that would put any chance of a Browns’ comeback to bed.
▫️Suffers a left ankle injury before halftime
▫️Can barely walk
▫️Manages to return & starts the 3rd quarter
▫️Puts the game away with a long TD pass in the final minutes
— Daniel Valente (@StatsGuyDaniel) July 30, 2020
Unfortunately, the ankle injury would bother Roethlisberger for the rest of the season but his heroic showing on this cold Thursday night will never be forgotten.
2015 – Foot Sprain
Roethlisberger hobbled off the field and was then carted to the locker room after suffering a foot injury against the Oakland Raiders. What was feared to be a Lisfranc injury eventually turned out to be a mid-foot sprain though the consensus was that the Steelers’ quarterback would be out a few weeks anyways.
Ben Roethlisberger has a mid-foot sprain and is expected to be sidelined "a few weeks", per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 8, 2015
What should have been a few weeks ended up turning into a few days as Roethlisberger was forced into action the following Sunday against the Browns. The plan called for Landry Jones to get the start with the less than 100-percent Roethlisberger to be the backup. That plan lasted four minutes before Jones had to leave the game due to injury.
The Heinz Field crowd looked on eagerly as the injured Roethlisberger stepped onto the field, though their worries would be quickly forgotten. If he was injured, Roethlisberger sure did not look like it as he threw for 379 yards with three touchdowns. His 379-passing yards in a regular season game are the most by a quarterback coming off the bench in NFL history.
2016 – Sprained AC Joint In Throwing Shoulder
This right here might be the moment where Roethlisberger’s toughness entered legendary territory. To put it in the words of former WWE announcer Jim Ross, Roethlisberger’s ‘tougher than a two-dollar steak.”
At the end of the third quarter of the 2015 Wild Card game, Big Ben was sacked and injured by Cincinnati Bengals’ linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He was carted off the field and it would later be revealed that he suffered a sprained AC Joint in his throwing shoulder along with torn ligaments. The Steelers’ quarterback returned to the sideline and watched as his team squandered a 15-0 lead as all hope looked to be lost.
And then one of the most memorable events in Steelers’ postseason history occurred.
Given one more chance thanks to a Jeremy Hill fumble, Roethlisberger jogged back onto the field as the Steelers trailed 16-15 with just over a minute remaining. His task? Get the Steelers in position for a game winning field goal despite his battered shoulder.
The Steelers’ quarterback did all he could, converting not only a 3rd down but also a 4th down conversion before the Bengals would implode, committing two personal foul penalties to put the Steelers in range for a 35-yard field goal. Chris Boswell would do the rest as he kicked it through the uprights to close out a 18-16 victory.
Our story does not end there though as Big Ben suited him the following weekend for a tough divisional matchup against the Denver Broncos. Despite questions about his shoulder and arm strength, Roethlisberger threw for over 300-yards against the top ranked pass defense in the NFL, though his courageous efforts would not be enough for the victory.
It would be impossible to capture all the injuries that Roethlisberger has overcome throughout his career. There was the lingering thumb injury that shadowed his Super Bowl winning 2005 season, a defiant showing against the Bills in Buffalo in 2010 with an injured foot and almost leading the Steelers to victory against the Raiders in 2018 despite dealing with cracked ribs.
The 38-year old quarterback has been battered and bruised throughout his career but has always found a way to return. Now with the 2020 season nearing, Roethlisberger will have one more opportunity to add to his almost folklore-type toughness if he can return from an elbow injury and lead the Steelers to a successful season.