PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 06: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a touchdown pass to teammate Mike Wallace #17 against the Baltimore Ravens during the game on November 6, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
As many long-time Steelers fans will tell you, one of the biggest mistakes the franchise ever made was passing on Dan Marino in the 1983 draft. Some have said that had the team drafted Marino, they may have won another title or two in the 80's.
I have a hard time believing that. It seems to me that those 80's squads were filled with a lot of mediocre talent, and it's hard to picture guys like Walter Abercrombie and Weegie Thompson being part of a Super Bowl parade, but after watching some of Bill Cowher's playoff teams come up short time and time again, maybe there's something to that.
Cowher's Steelers playoff teams from the 90's and early 00's were loaded with talent, but the one thing that seemed to keep them from winning a championship was the lack of a bona fide franchise quarterback.
When the Steelers finally drafted Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, it ended their 20 year drought in the elite quarterback department , and it soon put them over the top to the tune of three Super Bowl appearances and two World Championships.
It's been a wonderful ride and a new golden era for Steelers fans. Unfortunately, however, the team faces major decisions regarding some legendary players, and there is a fear that the time for Super Bowl championships may be coming to an end.
However, I think the 2011 New England Patriots proved that as long as a team has a franchise quarterback, it can still be a serious Super Bowl contender.
To be honest, I thought the Patriots run as legit contenders was pretty much over. After their 18-1 campaign in 2007, the Pats failed to make the playoffs in 2008 and were one and done the following two years.
By 2011, the Patriots were seven years removed from their last Super Bowl championship, and it's pretty rare for a team to remain in the hunt that many years later. Besides, New England's 2011 roster looked nothing like their '04 team as legends like Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Willie Mcginest and Rodney Harrison were long gone.
The one constant, however, was Tom Brady. While the roster may have been younger in a lot of areas--the defense was certainly a work in progress--with Brady under center, the Patriots were able to maintain their championship level and make it to their fifth Super Bowl since 2001.
The Steelers will be forced to make some tough decisions here in the near-future, and there is no doubt that the roster will undergo some serious reconstruction.
Hey, that's life in today's NFL.
With free agency and a salary cap, it's harder today than it was years ago to maintain a championship level--kudos to the Steelers for keeping the team together for as long as it has--but with a franchise quarterback, an organization can still stay in contention as long as the front office and coaching staff do a decent job in overhauling the roster.
As Steelers fans, we'll have to say goodbye to some beloved Super Bowl heroes in the weeks, months and years to come, but with Ben Roethlisberger still in the prime of his career, we may not have to say goodbye to Super Bowl runs any time soon.