There is one thing that defines a team during the era of its possession of a true franchise quarterback, and that is this: they’re never out of it. They’re never out of the running. They’re never out of a game. That’s how the Pittsburgh Steelers operated for the better part of two decades with future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger under center, with the past 15 years navigated under the guiding hand of head coach Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin recently talked about his relationship with Roethlisberger and why it worked, during an appearance in the Bleav in Steelers Show with Mark Bergin and Ike Taylor. He said that what defined their relationship was a common competitiveness that superseded anything else. It was a pretty long answer, and a good one, so I’ll give you the full quote:
Ben and I are obviously very different people, but we share a couple of things that were critical in terms of us being able to have a great working relationship for an extended period of time. Ben is a sick competitor, and you know that. Ben’s gonna kill you at everything—at ping pong, bowling, it does not matter. It does not matter.
I’m cut in a very similar way, and I always appreciated that about him, and that’s something that was unchanged from the time he was 23 to the time he was 39. We all change in a lot of ways—shoot, I’m different than I was back in ’07. But that component of it, that competitive spirit, is a tie that binds, and allowed us to deal with the things that come up when you have the role that I have and the role that he had.
It’s gonna have bumps in the road along the way. That’s just life. But I never questioned his will; I never questioned his intentions in terms of being successful and having a desire to win and doing whatever’s required for us to be in play in that way. And that’s what made working with him so fun for so long.
You can argue the results that the Steelers got under Tomlin and Roethlisberger—actually, scratch that. You can’t. What they achieved wasn’t good enough by their own standards. They only reached two Super Bowls, winning one.
But what you can’t argue, or at least I don’t believe there is a good argument for it, is that at any point either Tomlin or Roethlisberger every gave less than themselves, within reason, on the field to achieve victory.
One of the most important qualities you must possess in an effort to be successful in competitive sports is to have an innate hatred of losing. It’s an awful feeling, worse than winning is a euphoric feeling. Both Roethlisberger and Tomlin had that. Does Kenny Pickett? Tomlin thinks so. Let’s hope he’s right.