The remainder of this week is all about two things for the Pittsburgh Steelers: The Hall of Fame game Thursday night, when the team officially kicks off the preseason against the Dallas Cowboys, and then the actual two-night Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony Saturday and Sunday, when five Steelers will be inducted into the Hall.
The latest any of the Steeler inductees was in the NFL was 2014, the final year of Troy Polamalu’s career. Yet there is one Steeler still active who has spent considerable time not just as a teammate of Polamalu’s, but of Alan Faneca’s and as one of coach Bill Cowher’s players: Ben Roethlisberger. The longest-tenured Steeler (drafted in 2004, seven years before the next-longest, Cameron Heyward), Roethlisberger has been in the league long enough that many former teammates and competitors are receiving enshrinement.
Ahead of the NFL Hall of Fame game Thursday, Roethlisberger spoke with Movin’ the Chains on SiriusXM NFL Radio about all three of his Hall of Fame teammates and coaches, reserving some of his kindest words for the man who helped mold him as a rising star in the NFL.
“It’s so humbling, um, to, to have played for a hall of fame coach,” Roethlisberger said of Cowher. “I think we all kind of knew it, that he was going to get in, winning that Super Bowl I think kind of cemented it, but, what he meant and means to the city of Pittsburgh, to the Steelers, I would say it’s unparalleled, but you’ve got coach Chuck [Noll] and now Mike [Tomlin], but, just the tradition and what he means is truly something special, and an honor to play for him.”
Roethlisberger played the first three years of his career with Cowher as his head coach. The duo compiled a 29-11 record together, winning the Super Bowl in the second of those three seasons, while under Cowher’s tutelage, Roethlisberger won the Rookie of the Year award in 2004.
One of Big Ben’s primary blockers that season was Faneca, who was beginning a streak of four consecutive All-Pro selections that year to conclude the Steeler portion of his career. Faneca played with the team from 1998-2007, making six All-Pro teams, before playing the final three years of his career with the New York Jets and Arizona.
His greatest success came during that final four-year run with Roethlisberger, where he earned his lone career Super Bowl ring and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000s.
And sticking around longer than that to help lead the team as one of the faces of the franchise was Polamalu, who shared the field with Roethlisberger from Ben’s rookie year in 2004 to Polamalu’s 2014 retirement, winning two Super Bowl rings together and appearing in a third.
“Troy was, you know, one of the greatest players that I’ve ever seen play, played against, played with. The things that I saw that man do on a football field where just, you still shake your head to this day,” Roethlisberger said. “Alan, I only got to play a couple years with him, but what an honor to play with one of the best lineman in the game and his passion for the game was something special.”
Roethlisberger’s final season is on the horizon, likely this year but no more than a year or two after that. Shortly after will see him join his former teammates in Canton. For now, he can just marvel at the unique chance to, as an active player, see long-time teammates and the first NFL head coach he had inducted into the Hall of Fame just a couple days after he and his team begin the 2021 preseason.
“It’s just really cool to have three guys that I have a really close connection to going in to Canton,” Roethlisberger said.