Much to fans’ evident chagrin, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is indeed returning for what is likely to be one last season. While he is now at the tail end of his athletic window as far as competing at the highest level of profession, however, he has advanced his game in ways that are far beyond where he was earlier in his career during his physical prime.
That is the general path for athletes in a variety of fields, of course. The longer you play, the more you learn, and your figure out how to compensate for diminishing physical abilities. Like young speedball pitchers developing a curve ball as they lose a few miles per hour on their fastball.
While much of this has to do with what takes place on the field, some of Roethlisberger’s most significant maturing has come in the locker room, with how he manages his teammates, something he fully admits is something that he didn’t have to do when he came into the league, something he talked about on the Along for the Ride podcast recently.
“We had guys on that team that were veteran leaders, that were the voices that kept me from having to come in right away and saying, ‘hey, this is my team. This is how I do it’”, Roethlisberger said of the beginning of his career. “I think that’s one of the key things to being a leader, is knowing who you have around you, knowing how to speak to guys, how to motivate guys, how to communicate with guys”.
“I learned that as I got older. I learned how to communicate with guys, how to lead guys”, he explained. “Each guy in my line or on a team needs to be led, communicated with, differently. So when you come in as a rookie, if I would’ve come in hollering at these guys, like ‘this is my team’, they would’ve—I don’t know what would’ve happened. They would’ve put me in my place pretty quick”.
This really started in particular after Hines Ward retired and the skill positions and the offensive line got younger. All of a sudden, he was the old veteran, and it really was his team. Whether he accepted the role or not, the young guys were going to come up to him.
To his credit, he embraced the role, and has been a leader, including on the practice field. A lot of things fans never see or hear about—some buy into false narratives that he basically doesn’t have any interest in anything except playing on Sundays—and that has been an important part of his game in the later stages of his career.