The current quarterback situation in Green Bay is what all Steeler fans can only hope comes to fruition, and that’s the seamless transition they made from one Hall of Fame quarterback to another. They went from gunslinger Brett Favre to one of the highest-rated passers in league history in Aaron Rodgers, whom they scooped from a freefall in the 2005 draft. Rodgers sat for several seasons behind Favre, learning from one of the best the game has ever seen and biding his time. Spanning the careers of both is two Super Bowl titles and seven MVP Awards, perhaps more by the time Rodgers’ career is final. In essence, finding a true franchise quarterback is among the most difficult tasks that NFL front offices have.
Prior to drafting Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 draft, the team had been searching for their next franchise great ever since the Terry Bradshaw era, which obviously yielded them four Super Bowl titles and is widely considered the top dynasty of all time.
Names such as Neil O’Donnell, Bubby Brister, Kordell Stewart, and Tommy Maddox all tried, and all failed to live up to Bradshaw. It wasn’t until Big Ben arrived did we witness anything close to greatness. His rookie season, he took over for an injury to Maddox and led the team to a 15-1 season and an AFC Championship game appearance, which they ultimately lost. The following season, he led the team in their elusive quest for that “One For The Thumb” Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Again in the 2008 season, he led the team to the mountaintop once again, defeating the Arizona Cardinals in a thrilling 27-23 win where Ben came up biggest when it mattered most, on that final drive. He hit wide receiver Santonio Holmes with a pinpoint pass with only 35 seconds left to secure the victory. Under his leadership, the team was in constant contention year-in and year-out, and they advanced to the big game yet again in the 2010 season, where they ultimately fell short in losing to the Green Bay Packers 31-25.
As we witnessed Ben’s final act in the playoff loss to the Chiefs this past January, we were watching the greatest QB in Steelers history ride off into the sunset, taking with him ownership of virtually every single team passing record. Never once did the team experience a losing season with #7 at the helm. Five years from now, unless he goes “Tom Brady” on us all, Roethlisberger will be enshrined in Canton at the Hall Of Fame. Encompassing all of this, should we temper our expectations on the next Steelers QB being able to fill the enormous shoes that Ben left behind? Much like when he took over his rookie season, the team’s identity now seems to be one that’s ground-oriented, led by a rebuilt offensive line and stellar play from Pro Bowl running back Najee Harris. The talented pass catchers are there, led by Pro Bowler Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and Pat Freiermuth. The defense is amongst the best in the league, led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt.
The contract given to Mitch Trubisky is basically backup money, and is incentive laden. He was drafted second overall in the 2017 draft, and primed to be the savior QB the Chicago Bears sorely needed. Perhaps it was too much, too soon? He’s a true wild card, but the team has devoted an enormous amount of attention on this draft’s QB prospects, so one cannot rule them out drafting one in the first round. Only time will tell what happens, but each year we see many quarterbacks flame out. For every Andrew Luck, there exists a Tim Couch or a Johnny Manziel. The bright lights of the NFL are a totally different beast than those of the college game.
Add in the element of being tasked with replacing your franchise’s greatest ever and those concerns are magnified. Will the change of scenery with a stronger supporting cast provide Trubisky an opportunity that he wasn’t fairly given in Chicago? Will the big-armed and cat-quick Malik Willis be the next in line? Or could it be a dark horse, say Desmond Ridder, who led his Cincinnati Bearcats to a 44-6 record over his four seasons as a starter? They all display great intangibles that are required from the position in today’s game but do they offer the toughness, grit, and leadership factors that Ben gave the team for 18 seasons? With Ben, he embodied the Steelers blue-collar fanbase to a T, with visions of defenders hanging and grasping at his legs as he shrugged them off to complete passes.
His shadow will loom large for awhile, so let me know in the comments below your thoughts on who you feel has the best chance to succeed and live up to Ben’s legacy.