Ben Roethlisberger Can’t Beat Time But Goes Out A Champion

Ben Roethlisberger Can’t Beat Time But Goes Out A Champion

Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts as he walks off the field after being … [+] defeated by the Kansas City Chiefs 42-21 in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 16, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat)

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There were just seconds to go in the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs playoff game Sunday night when the Steelers called their last timeout, hoping to score a touchdown before the game clock expired. As they did, boo’s rained down from the fans gathered in GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.

Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers hands the ball to teammate Benny Snell #24 in the … [+] fourth quarter in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 16, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt)

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You see any touchdown the Steelers might have scored would be meaningless. The Chiefs were ahead by 21 points and most of the home crowd just wanted to cheer a victory in the blessed cold. But the play wasn’t meaningless to Pittsburgh’s quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It was likely the last snap Big Ben was going to take in a stellar career, and his team was hoping to make that last play one for the memory bank – how many people can say the final play of their career was a touchdown?

Alas, the play didn’t lead to a score, but the fight Roethlisberger brought to that last drive reminded me why I’ve loved him so.

And it was true for Head Coach Mike Tomlin and every Steeler teammate, too. They wanted the guy who had played a major role in making literally hundreds of Pittsburgh Sundays worth waiting for to be able to walk off the field with one last piece of glory. It wouldn’t affect the outcome, but it was the right thing to do.

Roethlisberger grew up in Findley, Ohio, and played college football at Miami University of Ohio in the heart of Buckeye country. Many Ohioans probably wished the towering quarterback had stayed “in-state” and made his career with the Cleveland Browns, but he was drafted in 2004 by the Steelers, instead, and immediately became a perfect fit for Cleveland’s hated rival.

There he led the team for 18 seasons during which he won Super Bowls in 2005 and 2008 and established himself as one of the league’s finest at his position, playing in the mold of his hero, Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway. Both were fond of playing outside the “passing pocket.” Like his hero, Roethlisberger will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after being selected 11th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers during … [+] the 2004 NFL Draft on April 24, 2004 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman)

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It was Elway who once waxed philosophical about the realities of the professional athlete’s life in a way Roethlisberger could surely relate to. “At some point, the fire that burns in you to compete – and all of the quarterbacks who play for a long time have that – eventually that fire can’t overcome pain, injury, or time,” said Elway. “It’s different for everybody when that happens, but it’s almost always the same when it does.”

Well, it has happened for Roethlisberger who, at the age of 40 and unable to summon the same reserves as the ageless phenom Tom Brady, seemed to indicate beyond any doubt that Sunday’s loss was his last professional game. Yes, the score might have been closer and, in the best of all worlds for fans of the team and its quarterback, Pittsburgh might have pulled out one more win for Big Ben. But as Elway said, the reality of time and the desire of a professional athlete are always on a collision course, and the winner is always, well, Father Time.

That hasn’t stopped some from getting in their last licks. One of Roethlisberger’s contemporaries, the great Peyton Manning, won his second Super Bowl in his last game as a professional. And Elway, who also won a couple of Super Bowls with the Broncos, went out at the very top by winning Super Bowl XXXIII and being voted MVP. In your eye, Old Man Time!

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is surrounded by the media as he walks off the … [+] field after an AFC wild card playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs on Jan 16, 2022 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters)

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Going into the game, the quarterback had publicly hoped the underdog Steelers could “go in and play and have fun,” which, given their underdog status, was exactly what you would expect a true leader to say to take care of his team. On Sunday, I could tell that Roethlisberger’s teammates were rallying around him the whole afternoon. “Just a bunch of guys that fought for each other, that fought their butts off and just competed,” reflected the big man of the game and his tenure with the Steelers. “It wasn’t always pretty, but there are a lot of games that we found a way. I’m so proud of this group of men and the way they fight for each other, for the black and gold, for our fans. It’s just been an honor to play with them.”

So no, Big Ben didn’t get to end his career with a touchdown. But that didn’t stop the Pittsburgh faithful who traveled to Arrowhead Stadium to cheer on Ben. They showered him with love right to the end, which was it should be for a wonderful warrior who reminds all of us how powerful it is when you commit to playing every play as if it were your last.

Heck, I even know a Browns fan or two who might miss him!

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