What will be Big Ben’s legacy in Pittsburgh? | Sports News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

What will be Big Ben’s legacy in Pittsburgh?

Entering his 15th season with Steelers, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn’t as beloved as an all-time great should be.

click to enlarge CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham

If you have a great quarterback, you have a chance to win the Super Bowl in any season. If you don’t, you have nothing.

The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers can win the Super Bowl.

This NFL season will be his 15th, and Roethlisberger enters it still as one of the best in the world at the most valuable position in professional sports. How big of an advantage is having Big Ben for the Steelers? He is one of four AFC quarterbacks to start a Super Bowl since he entered the league. One (Peyton Manning) has retired. Another (Joe Flacco) is fighting to keep his job. The other is the guy who has twice taken out Roethlisberger with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

What might Roethlisberger’s career look like if not for the existence of Tom Brady?  

Answering that question might be easier than assessing Roethlisberger’s legacy in Pittsburgh.

His on-field resume speaks for itself. The only thing he doesn’t have on Hall-of-Famer Terry Bradshaw is titles (the score: Brad 4, Big Ben 2) and a league MVP. Otherwise, all Steelers’ passing records belong to Roethlisberger, who has spent more time as an elite quarterback than the combined total of predecessors. He is at least the most accomplished offensive player in the Steelers’ storied history. He is arguably behind only “Mean” Joe Greene as the greatest Steeler.

A quarterback of his stature in a city where football is religion should be on a pedestal by himself. 

But it’s difficult to argue Roethlisberger is beloved, and it’s impossible to say he is a lock to have his number retired, let alone a statue constructed in his honor. That’s because there still is the other part of his story.

One of Pittsburgh’s most successful athletes has also been one of its most challenging for fans to fully embrace. Roethlisberger has delivered the highs, but also has let people down. He is now a family man who is opening a restaurant near the football stadium that will always be considered his office. He also was twice accused of sexual assault, once nearly perished in a motorcycle accident, and is the face of the Steelers in an era during which they have seemingly courted controversies. 

At times, he has created the controversy: almost yearly flirtations with retirement; almost annually passive-aggressive swipes at coaches or teammates; almost always mentioning injuries, especially when things go bad on the field; and, most recently, the almost predictable public reaction to the Steelers’ drafting of his potential heir, Mason Rudolph.

There is almost always something when it comes to Roethlisberger.

There has been almost nothing like Roethlisberger, either.

For all of their remarkable successes since the AFL-NFL merger — they have won the most Super Bowls, division titles and regular-season games — the Steelers have never been quarterbacked by a man their devoted fans have loved, or could love. Bradshaw has traded embracing and enraging them. Only one of his pre-Roethlisberger successors reached a Super Bowl, and Neil O’Donnell threw away that one. Despite having had a wing’s worth of Hall-Of-Fame players to adore, the Steelers Nation has never known what it’s been like to unconditionally love a player at the most celebrated position in American sports.

Roethlisberger didn’t need to become that guy when he was drafted in 2004. But he could have been, and it would have been great if he had been.

Whether or not he can still be probably has little to do with what he’ll do over his final seasons. He will throw touchdowns. He will win games. He might even again become super.

But the story of Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh only gets the ending everybody wants if the Steelers again climb the NFL’s mountain and their quarterback finally finds the high ground he needs to become a local hero.

Where does Ben Roethlisberger rank amongst all-time Steelers? Tweet us @pghcitypaper.com

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