Former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played 18 seasons, the longest for a quarterback with one team in his career. However, that almost wasn’t the case.
At the end of the 2021 season it was clear Roethlisberger’s time in Pittsburgh was up, but Roethlisberger still had a chance to continue his playing career. Toward the end of the 2022 season, Roethlisberger said he had talks with the San Francisco 49ers following injuries at quarterback position to Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, which left San Francisco — a Super Bowl contender — with just Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy at the position.
Roethlisberger revealed the 49ers’ interest late last season to Mark Madden Tuesday during an interview on 105.9 The X.
“Last year there were some truth’s to the Niners thing,” Roethlisberger said to Madden, according to audio via 105.9 The X. “Just in the sense that they were reaching out, maybe just to gauge my interest. I had discussions. I don’t want to sit here and say I was going or anything like that; they called to gauge interest. I had conversations with my agent, with my wife, with my family, prayed a lot about it.”
The 49ers were decimated by quarterback injuries in 2022 with both Lance (broken ankle) and Garoppolo (broken foot) eventually being sidelined for the season. That led the 49ers to turn to Purdy as a full-time starter in Week 13. It was likely around this time Roethlisberger was asked to come back.
It’s about the same time that former NFL quarterback Philip Rivers was also trying to make a comeback, according to Rich Eisen.
In Roethlisberger’s last NFL season, many fans and media members remarked how he was a big part of the problem in Pittsburgh and that the team would be better without him. It is no secret that Roethlisberger struggled in his last couple seasons, losing the mobility that was his trademark. As an ultra-competitor, that Roethlisberger the wrong way, and he told Madden that was one of the reasons he was intrigued by a potential return to the NFL.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say there wasn’t a small part of me that wasn’t intrigued that I could still do it, prove to people I could still play,” Roethlisberger told Madden. “But at the end of the day I just can’t see myself in anything other than Black and Gold. Even though they had a great chance, I think, to win a Super Bowl, it would have been hard for me to try and win a Super Bowl anywhere else but here.”
Had Roethlisberger returned to the NFL as a 49er, it would have been jaw dropping. But being on a team with a great running game, great defense and a really good offensive line would have been perfect for him. However, Purdy did really well, not losing a game until the NFC Championship game in which he got knocked out early with an elbow injury.
Seeing Roethlisberger in another uniform likely would have hurt Steelers fans, but it would have been hard to not understand why he returned to the NFL. Had he pulled off a Purdy-like run it might have led criticism of former general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin for not surrounding Roethlisberger with better talent and coaching.
Roethlisberger didn’t return, and we don’t have to have those conversations. Instead, we can still celebrate his being the longest-tenured quarterback with one team in NFL history. Those 18 seasons with the Steelers will result in Roethlisberger’s future induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.