Don't Cry Because It's Over, Smile Because It Happened

 

(Ducharme/Reuters)


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Ben Roethlisberger officially announced his retirement yesterday in a touching video to Pittsburgh Steeler fans.  Just a few days away from 40, and after spending 18 grueling seasons in the National Football League, all with the same team, one of the true titans of the game is calling it quits.  Probably the most oft-injured player in the history of the sport, and he fought through every single hit to lead the Steelers to two Super Bowl Championships and never suffered a losing season. 

What does a 28-year old Steeler fan say about Ben Roethlisberger?  How can the majority years of your Steeler fandom be summed up into words?  I don’t particularly remember Steeler moments before Big Ben and I am not particularly looking forward to Steeler games without him.  It’s all I’ve known really.

One of my very first sports memories actually involves fellow Gold Lot Sports writer, Brian Torchia, and Big Ben.  We were at Webb Park in Collier Township on a Saturday morning for our 9 and 10 year-old coaches’ pitch baseball pictures.  I don’t even know if we were on the same team that year, but Brian and I had made plans to watch the 2004 NFL Draft.  We were excited to see where Pitt legend, Larry Fitzgerald, was going to be drafted, and also the Steelers were slated to take a QB that draft.  Very exciting stuff.

Looking back now, that draft was absolutely loaded with talent.  Just in the 1st round went Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Larry Fitzgerald, Big Ben, the late Sean Taylor, Jonathan Vilma, and Vince Wilfork.  Just an exceptionally great draft class.

Anyway, when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, I was instantly hooked.  I had rookie cards, and framed pictures, and my first ever Steeler jersey.  He was my idol.

His legend continued when he started, and won, 15 straight games after taking over for an injured Tommy Maddox.  I didn’t know if Big Ben would ever lose a game.  He was a living legend, the best player I had ever seen at that age. 

The legend grew larger when Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback in history to lead a team to a Super Bowl Championship.  He promised running back Jerome Bettis that if Bettis stuck around, he would deliver, and Ben did indeed deliver.  Not to mention, the Super Bowl was won in Bettis' hometown of Detroit.  It was a story too good for Hollywood.  You couldn’t write it any better. 

Then, the motorcycle accident.  My mom hollered out to us in the yard that Big Ben had been in some sort of accident and they weren’t sure if he was okay.  They thought maybe he was trying to take a “Pittsburgh left” on a motorcycle and he wasn’t wearing a helmet.  The city stood still.  But of course, like Big Ben always did, he returned from the injury and continued on his Hall of Fame path. 

Then more bad news in the summer of 2010.  Ben Roethlisberger was being suspended six games, later reduced to four, for being accused of sexually assaulting a college student in Milledgeville, Georgia after a night of drinking.  He was not charged by Georgia authorities, but commissioner Roger Goodell believed that Roethlisberger’s actions were below the standard he should set as an NFL player.

The nicknames and that night followed Ben for many seasons after that.  Cleveland Browns really still haven’t let it go, despite Big Ben showing a real character change in his later years.  The star quarterback settled down, got married, had kids, and you could really see the dramatic change in his character. 

Instead of the arrogant kid, he became the hard to tackle, always getting back up, rough and tough leader of Steeler football.  The numbers had already spoken for themselves, but now it was time for his character to lead the way to Canton as well.  Especially, after this most recent Baseball Hall of Fame voting showed how seriously (and conveniently) they use the character clause. *eye roll*

Ben would spend his later years just winning and racking up truly impressive yardage stats.  In 2018, at 36-years of age, Ben threw for 5,129 yards on 675 attempts.  Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury in 2019 that limited him to two games, and he was never quite the same after that.  

So now after 18 seasons, two Super Bowl Championships, three conference championships, and more division titles than the Cleveland Browns will ever come close to sniffing, the best quarterback in Pittsburgh Steelers history (incoming text from avid Bradshaw fan, my mom) is walking away after another winning season and a playoff berth.  His final regular season game was an overtime win over rival Baltimore Ravens.  He finishes with a season sweep of both the Ravens and the Browns.  Extremely fitting.

So what can I say, but Thank You.  Thank you Ben for the memories.  Thank you for the Super Bowl.  Thank you for the times I spent celebrating with family and friends that I will never forget.  See you in Canton.

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