Tommy Maddox suffered an injury in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ second game of the 2004 season. It was a blow to a team coming off a disappointing 6-10 season to lose their starting quarterback, and have to settle for the man who would have been their third-string behind Charlie Batch, had the latter not also been injured.
But that third-string quarterback was Ben Roethlisberger, drafted that year with the 11th overall pick. The Steelers obviously knew he had a future, or they wouldn’t have drafted him. But not everyone in the starting lineup was welcoming his early entry into the starting lineup.
Alan Faneca famously rebuked a reporter at the time when he was asked if it was exciting to see Roethlisberger play. “No, it’s not exciting”, he said. “Do you want to go work with some little young kid who’s just out of college?”.
Much was made of those remarks, of course, which are now ancient history, which Faneca made clear in speaking to reporters earlier today during his media availability ahead of Hall of Fame weekend, during which he will be enshrined as part of the class of 2021.
“Ben and I had a little short discussion about that moment, when I was doing some coaching during summer camps a couple years back”, he said. Faneca was a coaching intern for a couple of years a few seasons ago, working with the offensive lineman.
“He sees where I was coming from at the time. When I said those words, they were just really out of passion for the team, and not really Ben himself, or a slight against him”, he continued. “It was just about where we are as a team, and where we’re trying to get. How many teams lose their starting quarterback and it’s an exciting moment, was where I was coming from”.
Maddox had a successful season in 2002 and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, before struggling a year later, which led to a rare losing season that enabled them to be in the position to draft Roethlisberger, which is the last time they have naturally drafted inside of the top 15. He has gone on to have a Hall of Fame career, of course.
“It’s great to see him continuing on and playing and doing it at a high level, and leading, and being the leader he’s become, is pretty special to watch”, Faneca concluded. Roethlisberger is entering his 18th season this year, even if it comes amid a great deal of skepticism about his ability to perform at a championship level.
Faneca blocked for Roethlisberger through his first four seasons before departing in free agency, though not before claiming a Super Bowl title in 2005. Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a 15-1 record as a rookie, going 13-0 himself, before becoming the youngest quarterback to win the Super Bowl a year later.