Big Ben: The Bell Tolls

By Jamie Garwood

Ben Roethlisberger will most likely retire from the NFL after the final game of the season Sunday evening away at the Baltimore Ravens. His Pittsburgh Steelers side has a little to no chance to make the playoffs – 8% in fact, if results go their way. Yet fittingly, in the first seventeen-week regular season in history, we get one more opportunity to witness one of the greatest quarterbacks of the last two decades:

Canton Bound

Credit: Matt Freed (Post-Gazette)

An 18-year footballing journey is always hard to digest into a mere thousand words, yet it is imperative that I do Ben Roethlisberger justice – by focusing on a career that is bound to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, due to his two Super Bowl rings, elite level numbers and his unwavering longevity.

Roethlisberger was the 11th overall pick in the draft of 2004 along with his fellow first round contemporaries Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. Observers consider it to be one of the best QB classes in NFL history, right along with the one twenty years previous that had John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly within it – just for the record, all three QB’s from the 1983 draft now have their mail forwarded to Ohio. 

All three of 2004 are possibly bound to the Hall of Fame themselves, yet questions or perhaps doubt persist about the viability of Manning the Younger and Rivers due to their regular season records. Whilst Manning is the prototypical average quarterback, finishing with a .500 regular season record, he has the two rings to his name when his inspired postseason form led the G-Men of New York to unlikely vicory versus the New England Patriots.

Rivers meanwhile finished with 63,440 yards, a number Ben only overtook in the last month. He also holds a better win record than Manning, yet his failure to reach the Super Bowl once makes people question his inclusion.

Perfect For Pittsburgh

Roethlisberger enters Sunday’s swansong with a win-loss-draw record of 164-81-1; essentially, he has won double the amount of games he has lost. In the playoffs, he has hoisted two Lombardi trophies with a 13-9 record, albeit it with five ‘one-and-done’ campaigns in there too. Like many he is unfortunate to have played all of his career in the large shadow cast by the New England Patriots and Tom Brady – and despite consistent numbers, Ben has only qualified for six Pro Bowls and never been an All-Pro. Yet having now thrown for 63,844 yards (thus far), Roethlisberger is  surely assured of a first ballot nomination in five years time.

The man whose name sounds like some over the top bread sensation created in a lab of his native Ohio has always played with a ruggedness his midwest roots befitted, and his no nonsense attitude made him so beloved in the Pittsburgh community. He played for only two head coaches – a real novelty in any NFL career – in Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, who both called games with a knowing intelligence and assuredness in that under center they had one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

Consistent Despite Wear & Tear

Credit: Doug Mills (New York Times)

Admittedly, the body of Big Ben has let him down over the last three seasons, ever since the 2019 campaign when he only participated in two games before a right elbow injury ended his season early. The last two years, despite being hampered by a bad roster and his own physical shortcomings, Ben still threw for more than 3500 yards in each, with 54 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. The model of consistency in this day and age of gun-slinging, that two-season split is statistically better than Matt Ryan, (19-11) who is only coming into the same period of  his career now as Ben did seven years ago. His figures are ahead of playoff bound Ryan Tannehill also.

For this writer, Canton is not so much about superstars and big numbers but as much about longevity, consistency, reliability and character. Now for some people, that argument eliminates Roethlisberger based on the 2009 and 2010 sexual misconduct allegations which led to a six-game suspension from the league. While no charges were brought against him, it has hung like a spectre over his career. Yet his durability as a player remained, the big arm still working for weapons such as Antonio Brown before he left, and JuJu Smith Schuster when injury-free.

The two Super Bowls in 2005 (sophomore year) and 2008 came relatively early in his career, and while they have reached the finale only once since it has not been through want of trying. The first one saw Roethlisberger play the role of game manager, where Jerome Bettis trucked the Steelers to glory in his hometown of Detroit. Three years later he defeated Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals in a barnstormer, again a game defined by James Harrison’s 99 yard interception return that swung the game. They did return two years later in 2010 to only lose to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers – this is the last time either side has reached the pinnacle of American Football this century.

A Huge Hole To Fill

For the last ten years the Steelers have remained perennial contenders, thanks in no small part to Roethlisberger’s consistency. But there has been four one and done playoffs since then – including the ignominy of losing to Tim Tebow’s Denver Broncos and the late Demaryius Thomas’ 80 yard walk-off touchdown reception in overtime.

His grit and determination, married with a never-say-die playing attitude has endeared him to fans and rivals alike. He keeps his side in games for longer than necessary, and playing with a stellar defense in recent years led by TJ Watt, the Steelers have perhaps punched above their weight.

His leaving of the franchise will hit the team hard, as anytime he has been absent Mason Rudolph has not provided the answer they would have hoped for. And in a division where they have to combat Joe Burrow and when fully fit Lamar Jackson, the Steelers will need to make a bold and forthright decision to maintain relevance, otherwise be cast off into obscurity for a few years. With no must-get QB in the forthcoming draft, the answer may lie in free agency with Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson available if the money is right.

Bye Bye Big Ben

Credit: Justin Berl (Getty Images)

For all his detractors, Roethlisberger embodied the spirit and identity of the Pittsburgh city and franchise. Gritty and forthright, strong and full of guile, his longevity stands as a testament to his style of play. He never gave up, and his arm – as is ultimately happening – would have to fall off for him to be taken off the field. Unfortunately, perhaps he has played one season too many; many a quarterback (looking at you Brett Favre) do find it difficult to say goodbye. But Roethlisberger’s body has ultimately made the decision for him – which while is sad to see, it is relieving to know he is retiring now before it is too late.

In conclusion, Roethlisberger’s body of work guarantees him entry into the hall once his ticket is allowed to be punched. Solid, dependable and at his peak a Top 5 quarterback. Universally admired by fans, team-mates and opponents. You knew what you were getting with Big Ben most of the time, and that reliability is sometimes lacking in the current crop of QBs.



Jamie is a freelance writer of original NFL content on all matters ranging from fantasy football to bold predictions, and is an avid New England Patriots fan. Follow him @JamieGarwood For NFL takes.