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PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger read the papers stacked around Mark Whipple’s desk years ago when one caught his eye.
It was Whipple’s initial evaluation of the 2004 quarterback class, and although Roethlisberger was ranked high when he came out of Miami (Ohio), he was not the highest. That made the young signalman furious.
“He saw the reports on my desk one day I was looking through them,” said Whipple, the former Steelers quarterbacks coach who is now offensive coordinator in Nebraska. “It’s typically Ben when he was young. I said to him, ‘Yeah, if you had been a year more, you would have broken all the NCAA records, you would have been the first choice in the draft and gone to the 49ers.’ , which was his team anyway.
“He got mad because I had Eli [Manning] ranked higher than him, just because I said Eli’s brother [Peyton] is an NFL Player and Player of the Year. [Roethlisberger] always had this underlying challenge with Eli. “
Roethlisberger not only had an unspoken rivalry with the younger Manning. He felt personally challenged by everyone, constantly striving to convince those who knew him or saw him that he was the best. Know everything.
In his 18th year as Steelers quarterback, Roethlisberger admits “all signs” point to one last regular-season game at Heinz Field Monday night against the Cleveland Browns (20:15 ET, ESPN). He no longer has to prove himself, the fruits of his labor are clearly evident in two Super Bowl trophies, six Pro Bowls and more than 60,000 passing yards and 400 touchdown throws in the regular season.
Roethlisberger could have stopped playing many years ago, but kept pushing himself, motivated every season by the possibility of yet another Lombardi trophy.
“He only plays the game for one reason: to win the Super Bowls,” said Charlie Batch, Roethlisberger’s backup from 2004 to ’12. “Money is great, but once you reach it and you have enough that you do not have to worry about it, you only come back for one reason.”
In Roethlisberger, a native of Findlay, Ohio, the Steelers found the ultimate competitor. Not just a man motivated by 10 other teams who passed him in the NFL draft – including “hometown” Browns, who took tight-end Kellen Winslow as No. 6 – but one who cared to win everything, no matter the effort .
“I love watching winners and he has that mentality,” said Steelers wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud. “I remember a match I was on the sidelines, it looked like he had four hip pads on. The fight before that, he had a bruise that went from the knee and all the way up to the rib. He did not train all week, could not tie his shoes. He went into the game, taking every stroke that came his way. He never complained and when he got to the sideline, ‘Next series, next series’. The mentality of doing what it takes. That mentality makes him who he is. “
That mindset made him enthusiastic about fans early in his career, from the moment he took over for an injured Tommy Maddox as a rookie and helped the Steelers to a 15-1 record in normal season – 13-0 with Roethlisberger going – before losing to New England Patriots in AFC Championship Game. At times he was mercury and immature, but never wavered from his ultimate goal. He wanted to win, and he often did so under the most pressured circumstances. He has 52 game-winning drives, right in third place ever with Tom Brady.
For Steelers fans, some of Roethlisberger’s most memorable moments were the most unlikely: the touchdown throw to Santonio Holmes to win Super Bowl XLIII; played through a broken nose against the Baltimore Ravens in 2010 and led the Steelers to victory; his game-winning drive against the Dallas Cowboys his rookie season; the arrows thrown with defenders hanging from his body; the drop goes on to Antonio Brown, whom only the wide receiver could grasp.
“The first time you see him get hit by someone in the backcountry and he shakes them off and keeps playing is enough to make someone like Ben Roethlisberger,” said Erik Carlson, a Steelers fan who came in. from Southington, Connecticut, to penultimate home game.
For Allan Huibers, who came to see Roethlisberger in mid-December from Toronto, the quarterback’s ability to play through several injuries – knee, shoulder, foot, rib, elbow – is part of his legacy.
“A sore knee or a bad back or his arm was sore, he was still going out there and playing,” Huibers said. “That’s how I come to remember him.”
Cam Heyward knew Roethlisberger was competitive when he had seen him play for years, but when Heyward was drafted by the Steelers in 2011, he quickly understood the depth of Roethlisberger’s winning streak from the shuffleboard in the locker room.
“We used to have tournaments back then, and then it went out of control,” Heyward said. “Ben was always very competitive in that. But somehow I have always won. He’s a three-sport All-American in high school – I think so, or so he claims to be. When it comes to being competitive, Ben is one of the best. “
Roethlisberger also took the fights outside the locker room. Before the training camp exercises at St. Vincent College held Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey competitions to see who could hit the goal post with the ball.
“Ben was always competitive back then,” Heyward said. “Pouncey got us out of training once by doing that. Ben always thrived in every single game I’ve played.”
The need to win also extended to the golf course. Even after Whipple left the Steelers’ staff in 2006, he and Roethlisberger maintained a standing Tuesday golf date the following year.
“When we started playing golf together, he hadn’t really played much,” Whipple said. “But he could hit the ball a mile and just had incredibly soft hands that made the putts when he needed it.
And was always a tough loser. That’s a great quality for an NFL quarterback. “
Like Whipple, those who know Roethlisberger understand that losses consume him more than victories satisfy him.
“In that Super Bowl XLV loss, he had a chance to win that game in a two-minute practice, and we went four-and-out,” Batch said. “It bothers him.… We failed. And it celebrates confetti and Green Bay. And you go 10 years and do not even get to the point again that burns inside.
In the end, when I came back this season, I came back and believed they had a chance. If he did not believe they had a chance, I do not think he will return. “
The season did not go as Roethlisberger had imagined. Instead of running for the Super Bowl, Roethlisberger and the Steelers have had a roller-coaster season where they have thrown close victories out and absorbed soul-crushing losses.
Recognizing that this is likely to be his last home game of the regular season, Roethlisberger covers the table for a magnificent home final against the Browns – a tough division rival – with an outside chance of reaching the playoffs on the line. The Browns were eliminated Sunday, but the Steelers are mathematically viable to reach the off-season. These are exactly the kind of circumstances the ultimate competitor enjoyed throughout his career.
“I hope the fans will say I never stop,” Roethlisberger said. “I’ve given everything I have. Shoot, last week I begged to get back in the game, 30 down with nine minutes left. Coach let me go in that series and not the next.
“I just do not know how to stop.”