Less than a week after Ben Roethlisberger announced his retirement from the only game and the only franchise he’s ever known, the debate rages on about where the future first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback ranks in Pittsburgh Steelers’ franchise history, in terms of all-time greats.
It’s very clear that Roethlisberger is the best quarterback in franchise history, according to the statistics (though he ranks behind Terry Bradshaw in Super Bowl trophies), but where does he rank all-time in franchise history when it comes to the greatest players the historic franchise has seen in its 88 seasons?
Well, according to NFL.com’s Gil Brandt, a longtime analyst who also had a previous career as an executive with the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys resulting in his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he has the former gunslinger ranked inside the top 5 all-time in Steelers’ history.
“Ben Roethlisberger will go down as one of the best players of all time for the Pittsburgh Steelers — which is saying something for a franchise whose history books are crammed with Hall of Famers,” Brandt writes. “Roethlisberger’s retirement got me thinking: Where would the QB rank among the best to have ever suited up in black and yellow? And what would a list of the top 15 Steelers of all time look like?”
According to Brandt’s rankings, Roethlisberger comes in at No. 2 in Steelers’ history, one spot behind Mean Joe Greene, who forever changed the trajectory of the Steelers’ franchise when he was selected No. 1 overall in 1969 before being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.
Though the quarterback position carries a greater importance in today’s game more than it ever has, Brandt believes strongly in Roethlisberger’s place in Steelers’ lore, especially after being the No. 11 overall draft pick in 2004, resulting in two Super Bowl championships in an 18-year career that saw Roethlisberger earn a Pro Bowl nod six times while setting numerous Steelers’ franchise records.
“It’s funny to think of now, but when he was a prospect coming out of Miami of Ohio, I remember there being a perception that he had a strong arm but not much athleticism. Suffice it to say that he turned out to be plenty athletic, so good at shrugging off would-be tacklers before rifling the ball downfield that it became one of the defining images of his career,” Brandt writes. “Roethlisberger helped the Steelers win two Super Bowl titles within his first five professional seasons, and while he never won another, he did make Pittsburgh one of the most stable and reliably competitive teams of the past decade and a half. In his time with the team, the Steelers reached the postseason 11 times without posting a single losing season. And while he may not have been asked to do much in the early portion of his career, he eventually showed he could spin it with the best of them, leading the league in passing yards twice (with 4,952 in 2014 and 5,129 in 2018).”
It’s hard to argue with Brandt’s stance here on Roethlisberger in Steelers’ lore. While the tail end of his career can be viewed as a bit of a disappointment from the standpoint of his own individual play in the final two years of his career, there’s no denying how important Roethlisberger was to the Steelers for 18 years, keeping the Steelers in the conversation of consistent contenders for the last 18 seasons.
With Roethlisberger sitting at No. 2 behind Greene in the top spot, it’s worth noting that defensive back Rod Woodson, offensive lineman Alan Faneca, and cornerback Mel Blount round out Brandt’s top 5 all-time for the Steelers.
The rest of the top 15 for Brandt includes the following, in order: Safety Troy Polamalu, linebacker Jack Lambert, running back Jerome Bettis, quarterback Terry Bradshaw, running back Franco Harris, linebacker Jack Ham, defensive back Jack Butler, center Dermontti Dawson, wide receiver John Stallworth and wide receiver Lynn Swann.
What do they all have in common? All are Hall of Famers. Roethlisberger will soon join them.
For fun, Brandt also listed the players that just missed out on the top 15 all-time for the Steelers. According to Brandt, those players are: Ernie Stautner, DL, 1950-1963; Mike Webster, C, 1974-1988; Hines Ward, WR, 1998-2011; L.C. Greenwood, DE, 1969-1981; Donnie Shell, DB, 1974-1987; James Harrison, LB, 2002-2012, 2014-17; Antonio Brown, WR, 2010-18; Heath Miller, TE, 2005-2015.