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PITTSBURGH – An hour and a half before the Steelers’ penultimate home game of the regular season on December 19, Ryan Smith held a glass bottle of Redd’s Angry Ale in a parking lot outside Heinz Field. With yellow, black and gray camouflage pants, a white No. 7 Ben Roethlisberger sweater and a gold hat with “Big 7 Legs” sewn across the crown, Smith mingled into the crowd of pregame parties.
A schoolteacher in Fremont, Ohio, Smith, who is a few years older than Roethlisberger, still remembers seeing the quarterback play at nearby Findlay (Ohio) High School. As a senior, Roethlisberger burned Smiths alma mater in seven touchdowns.
Smith, a lifelong Steelers fan, bought the first of four Roethlisberger jerseys a week in 2004 when his former high school nemesis was drafted by his favorite team in the NFL.
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“Wasn’t a big fan back then,” Smith said. “But as soon as he became black and gold, 11th choice, I obviously became a Big Ben fan.
“I give him props every week. No matter who disses him, people talk shit about him in my hometown, but I stick to him. For me, he still does a good job. He can not run, but he can certainly throw. That’s all we need. Block him and he’s taken care of. That’s all that matters. “
Through what is almost guaranteed to be Roethlisberger’s final season, the dedicated Steelers loyalists have made the pilgrimage to see Roethlisberger play in person one last time.
In recent weeks, these trips have become more urgent, and the significance of the moment has not lost those who secured tickets for his last matches.
Monday night, more than 63,000 fans turned up at Heinz Field to say goodbye to Roethlisberger. The bottom bowl was surrounded by signs cheering on the double Super Bowl winner, many decorated with cut-and-paste highlights from his 18-year career. Fans shouted his name throughout the match and thanked him as the clock ticked down in the fourth quarter. The insane crowd caused a handful of Cleveland Brown’s penalties, and almost even affected Roethlisberger.
“It’s one of those where you’re like, ‘OK, I’m grateful for that, try to be quiet,'” the quarterback said with a laugh after the 26-14 victory. “‘We’re trying to call some plays.’ “But as I said, it means a lot. This place, Heinz Field, is so special to me. You know what this city is like.”
Garrett Piekarski, 29, who was standing in front of a small bonfire with his family, said he called his family’s season ticket for the last home game, specifically to see Roethlisberger free – and to talk rubbish with his friends, who are Browns. -fans.
“Obviously, when you hear something in the news like Ben, it may be his last fight, it may not be you have to show up for it,” Piekarski said. “Most franchises go through a bunch of quarterbacks. He’s been a quarterback for almost my entire life. So you have to cherish the good times and the bad times he’s had with us, especially in a game like this, too. against a divisional rival. You can not miss it for the world. “
While Roethlisberger’s biggest celebration came at Heinz Field, some Steelers fans ensure he has some friendly faces for his final farewell in Baltimore on Sunday (13.00 ET, CBS).
Mitchell Zook of Cumberland, Maryland, bought tickets Tuesday to see Roethlisberger one last time, and he plans to take his 10-year-old daughter to her first Steelers game. And 23-year-old New Jersey resident Austin Pasquale bought tickets with his father a week earlier to attend his first match in 10 years.
Richard Parker bought his tickets to the Steelers-Ravens game before everyone else this season. When he lives in New York, Parker usually tries to participate in the Ravens games because they offer the shortest ride, but this year it will be extra special.
“I figured there was a good chance this would be Ben’s last season, so I immediately looked for the Baltimore game,” Parker said in a message, adding that he managed to get to six other games in this season. “It ended up working perfectly as it actually becomes his last. Being there in person when he takes his last snaps will be a great experience.”
Born in Ohio, Roethlisberger ends his Steelers career as a reborn Yinzer, where his struggle and rough determination embody a city built on the backs of workers and an organization known for its physical character.
“I’ve liked him ever since he came into the league,” said Jason Cline, who drove the five-hour drive from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to see Roethlisberger in Kansas City on December 26. Cline took the tour with her father, who participated in Roethlisberger’s fourth start in Dallas. “His toughness. He fits the team perfectly,” said the younger Cline.
Steelers fans have not always felt that way about their quarterback. The allegations of sexual assault and the resulting suspension, along with the motorcycle accident that nearly killed him, created a rift between Roethlisberger and the city. Eventually, crusts formed over the fans’ frustrations as Roethlisberger kept winning and trying to get past his problems off the field with a quiet, suburban family life.
“You’re trying to forget the bad things,” said Zach Steiner, 45. “It’s with everyone. You’re looking for the good, you’re trying to look for the highlights. So no, I’m not thinking about how everyone based him to be. ruthless and ride on the world’s most powerful motorcycle.
“But everyone wants to remember the good things. Everyone wants to remember that he raised Lombardis and won matches for us.”
Steiner and his buddy David Cousineau, both from Pittsburgh, brought their daughters with them to the December 19 Tennessee Titans game. For Steiner, bringing Catherine, 16, to her first Steelers game was a tie-breaking moment – though it could take a couple of years for the size of the apartment to sink in.
“Ben is up there,” Steiner said. “It’s Terry [Bradshaw] and him. I do not know if she understands the seriousness of it because this is her first fight, but maybe when I look back it will be cool to be able to say, ‘Yo, I saw that guy play’.