It certainly wasn’t pretty, but in the end former Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger believes he went out on his own terms into retirement following 18 seasons at the helm of the black and gold.
Though he may have held on a bit longer than many believed was right, Roethlisberger — who spoke with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook Wednesday ahead of the first Steelers’ training camp without him in 18 years — stated that he still believes he played well and feels that is arm is still good enough to play in today’s NFL, even after major elbow surgery three years ago that put his career in jeopardy.
Still, Roethlisberger made the right decision walking away from the game he loves after 18 years, allowing the Steelers to transition into a new era, especially after he felt like he was being pushed out the door a bit by management.
“It was mostly Kevin [Colbert]. He was ready to move on. I think Mike [Tomlin] was a little ready to move on, but I think he was OK with me coming back. I think Mr. [Art] Rooney really wanted me to come back last year to play,” Roethlisberger said to Cook, according to original reporting from the Post-Gazette. “I thought I went out on my terms. I never wanted to stay too long. I know some people might think I did. ‘You stayed last year.’ But I thought I played pretty well last year, to be honest. My arm feels like I still could go out and play. I’m pretty confident I could still play. But it’s every day. It’s mental. Not having to prepare for camp and the season has been the biggest blessing for me. I’m fine with where I’m at with everything.”
That echoes what Roethlisberger has said in recent months, telling the WDVE morning show in late April that he was content with retirement. A few months later, that is still the case with Roethlisberger, who is busy serving as a chauffeur service for his children and their various summer activities, rather than preparing for another iteration of training camp, this time back at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
His comments about now-retired GM Kevin Colbert wanting to move on, head coach Mike Tomlin being on the fence, and owner Art Rooney II wanting him to come back also checks out, though that’s a far reach from there being “bad blood” between Roethlisberger and the only franchise he called home for 18 years, like the Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac hinted at in May.
Roethlisberger certainly went out on his terms though, getting a chance to run it back one final time with the Steelers following an embarrassing home playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns at the end of the 2020 season that saw him and longtime center Maurkice Pouncey sitting on the bench crying postgame.
His return in 2021 was an up and down one though, filled with some late-game heroics and some frustrating play overall that ultimately led the Steelers to the playoffs again, before Pittsburgh bowed out embarrassingly once again. The arm was never really the question with Roethlisberger. Though it certainly wasn’t what it once was in his career, he could still sling it when he needed to.
The issue was the lack of mobility in the pocket, as his knees seemed completely shot, making him a statue in the pocket, forcing him to get rid of the ball quickly behind arguably the league’s worst offensive line. Those two things coupled together, along with him not being a fit in offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s system, made for a painstaking slog through the season for the Steelers’ offense.
In the end, he couldn’t hold up physically, which he didn’t admit to Cook. That’s perfectly understandable; an athlete is never going to believe that they can’t do something physically. Mentally, Roethlisberger was better than he ever was in 2021. It’s just he couldn’t do things physically, which ultimately signaled an end to his career, allowing the Steelers to transition to a new era for 2022 and beyond.