For the first time in 18 seasons, the Steelers don’t have their true franchise signal caller, as future Hall Of Famer Ben Roethlisberger hung up the cleats for good following the team’s Wild Card playoff loss to the Chiefs. With him went a laundry list of accolades including multiple Pro Bowls, the record holder in virtually every franchise passing category and most importantly, two Super Bowl titles.
Since being drafted in 2004, the team went 165-81-1 in the regular season with him at the helm, and never once had a losing season. Part of playing for the same franchise for so long is how he got to experience a bevvy of different personalities, including his head coaches, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. Under that same way of thinking, he also got to play with a wide variety of player personalities. The world is constantly changing and technology especially is on the upswing. We’re in the midst of the social media age, which sometimes can be a very bad thing.
For Roethlisberger, who last season was playing with some rookies who were in diapers when he was drafted, there was a stark difference between the “then” and, basically the last several seasons, the “now.” When Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked Roethlisberger about any regrets he had when looking back over his career, he was quick to point out the fact that the team had only won three playoff games since the 2010 season.
“I feel like the game has changed, Roethlisberger told Cook. “I feel like the people have changed in a sense. Maybe it’s because I got spoiled when I came in. The team was so important. It was all about the team. Now, it’s about me and this, that and the other.”
That last sentence perhaps embodies his whole sentiment towards the question. Think back to some of the elite talents the team has had since that 2010 season. The Killer B’s with Ben, All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell and fellow All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was widely viewed for a stretch of several seasons as the unquestioned best in the game. The 500-yard passing games by Roethlisberger, the route-running by AB as he put elite cornerbacks in the spin cycle and the multi-faceted talents of Bell all equated to nothing but early-round playoff exits.
More recently, we have guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool who both, at times, seemed more intent on developing THEIR brand as opposed to being focused on the betterment of the team. The TikTok videos, the comments to the press, or how about the time when AB went live in the locker room following a Divisional Round win over the Chiefs in 2017? The team’s nemesis, the Patriots, lie ahead in the AFC Title game, so what does AB do? Goes live in the locker room, capturing Tomlin label them “assholes” among other choice words. For anyone that’s ever played football, what happens in the locker room should stay there. It’s not for fans or anyone not associated with the team to be hearing. Every other NFL coach says the same things about each and every team, you just didn’t hear of it from those teams like you did with Pittsburgh.
“That’s my biggest takeaway from when I started to the end. It turned from a team-first to a me-type attitude. It was hard. It’s hard for these young guys, too. Social media. They’re treated so well in college. Now, this new NIL stuff, which is unbelievable. They’re treated so special. They’re coddled at a young age because college coaches need them to win, too. I know coach [Terry] Hoeppner never coddled me [at Miami of Ohio]. Neither did Bill Cowher.”
I could go on and on with other instances like the infamous Bell-LeGarrette Blount marijuana incident, or the Bell holdout season where he basically wasted a season of the team’s nucleus in hopes of that big payday, which ultimately came from the Jets. This type of stuff was a far cry from when Ben first came into the league. He was surrounded by veterans like Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and Jerome Bettis and also coached by a harsh disciplinarian in Cowher. For the first time in awhile, all seems quiet on the Steelers front, and not a lot of people are expecting much from them this year. That’s ok, because looking back in years past, it’s the seasons in which nobody gave them a shot to do anything is the ones in which they’ve seemed to flourish.