With the signing of fellow Pittsburgh native Bruce Gradkowski during the NFL's free agency period in March, the handwriting was on the wall that Charlie Batch, the Homestead native and Steelers popular back-up quarterback since coming back home prior to the 2002 season, may have seen the conclusion of his playing days--at least in Pittsburgh.
Like James Farrior and Hines Ward before him, Batch has stated he has no plans to retire just yet. However, like his two former teammates, Batch, 38, may soon realize there's not much of a market for football players closer to the age of 40 than 30.
If Batch has indeed played his last game in the NFL, what a wonderful career it was. Sure, he didn't realize the dreams he probably had of having a lengthy career as a starting signal-caller, but not many athletes can say they had the opportunity to play a sport at its highest-level and do so in their very own back-yard. Batch had that opportunity, and he made the most out of just about every chance he got--often quietly bailing the Steelers out of jams that would have crippled other teams with less talented and business-like second (and third) string QBs.
It would be naive of me to assume Batch was just satisfied with being a back-up. He probably had a desire to start (show me a professional athlete who doesn't have the desire to compete, and I'll show you a professional athlete who should probably hang up his uniform), but he was injured often during his career--including his time with the Lions, where he started his career and played in 48 games, passing for over 9000 yards in four years before being released after the 2001 season.
Batch's release was partly due to injury and partly due to the fact that Detroit selected Joey Harrington with the third pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.
Shortly before Batch's third season in Pittsburgh, the Steelers selected Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th pick of the 2004 Draft. Instead of perhaps being jealous of Roethlisberger's arrival and opting for a trade or release, Batch quickly became one of the young quarterback's biggest mentors, both on the field, where he often served as an extra pair of eyes, and off the field, where he encouraged No. 7 to become a better teammate and be the true leader a quarterback of his stature should be.
While Batch often shared the Heinz Field sidelines with other back-ups who also had previous starting experience, such as Tommy Maddox and Byron Leftwich, he never created a stir and was always ready when his number was called--even when he was relegated to third string.
Despite Mike Tomlin's axiom of "Next Man Up," it's a bit unrealistic to expect a back-up to replace an elite talent and not see a drop-off. However, if a back-up is capable of helping a team win a game or two, he becomes a very valuable asset.
Batch was that kind of asset all throughout his time in Pittsburgh.
In the summer of 2006, with Steeler Nation still reeling from Roethlisberger's near-fatal motorcycle accident in June, it was announced that the third year quarterback had an emergency appendectomy just days prior to the start of the season and would miss the Thursday Night NFL Kickoff Game against the Dolphins. I remember hearing the news and feeling absolutely confident that Batch would be able to lead the Steelers to victory in their first game as defending Super Bowl Champions.
Sure enough, Batch played his finest game in a Pittsburgh uniform, passing for three scores--including an 87 yard strike to Heath Miller in the fourth quarter to bring the team from behind for good.
Batch endured more injury woes in 2008 and 2009, and probably only made the 2010 roster because of Roethlisberger's four-game suspension to start the season.
After signing with Tampa Bay in 2009, Leftwich was brought back into the fold prior to the 2010 season and was slated to be the starting quarterback to open the year. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury in the preseason, but instead of going with the veteran Batch, Tomlin decided to open the season with Dennis Dixon as the team's starting quarterback.
Midway through a Week 2 contest in Tennessee, Dixon was also injured, and once again, it was Batch to the rescue, as he started against the Buccaneers in Week 3 and led the Steelers to a 38-13 romp and a 3-0 start.
Even up until the very end, Batch was providing more than adequate back-up.
Starting in Week 11 of the 2012 season, it was all gloom and doom for the Steelers and their fans, as the team lost five of its final seven games down-the-strech on the way to missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Pittsburgh also suffered many critical injuries to key players--including Roethlisberger and Leftwich in consecutive weeks.
No, there wasn't much to be proud of over the last two months, save for one glorious moment in Week 13. Batch, coming off his worst performance as a Steeler in the, 20-14, loss to Cleveland a week earlier, played efficiently and courageously and led Pittsburgh to a last-second, 23-20, victory over its most hated rivals, the soon-to-be Super Bowl Champion Ravens.
It is often jokingly stated that the back-up quarterback is the most popular player on a football team. But in most cases, it's because of the less-than-satisfactory performance by the starting quarterback.
However, despite playing in the shadows of one of the NFL's best and most successful quarterbacks, Batch managed to gain a following in Pittsburgh, and it wasn't just because of the occasional clutch performance on the football field. Batch was (and still is) clutch off the field, as well, with his active involvement in the Pittsburgh community--including his charity foundation. Also, as a member of the NFLPA's executive committee, Batch even stepped up to provide leadership during the 2011 lockout.
And above all else, Batch is a Pittsburgh kid, and we always have a soft-spot for one of our own.
Charlie Batch: The perfect back-up quarterback.