Ben Roethlisberger's birthday is today, and he turns 33 years old. In our current society, where age is scrutinized and aging is dreaded like one dreads going to the dentist, some might look at a 33 year old quarterback and ask, "How many years does he have left to perform at an elite level?"
That may have been a valid question 20 years ago when top athletes weren't as athletic. Heck, it may have even been a reasonable question five years ago, when Roethlisberger was playing behind the likes of Justin Hartwig and getting beaten, bloodied and bruised repeatedly. But, now, to borrow a tired but really appropriate cliché: "33 is the new 23."
At least that's the case as it pertains to No. 7's career path that has found greater offensive success, efficiency and production in this, the post-Super Bowl era we now find ourselves in. I guess Art II was right three offseasons ago, when he had a desire to "tweak" Roethlisberger's game in-order for him to achieve greater success and also remain healthier than he was able to at that point in his career. Of course, a major upgrade of the offensive line that included a Pro Bowl center and a Pro Bowl-level guard didn't hurt matters any. It also didn't hurt to eventually add a Hall of Fame lineman to the coaching staff in one Mike Munchak who is now about the best in the business at coaching and teaching offensive linemen to do things such as protect franchise quarterbacks who have a history of suffering broken bones, sprained SC joints and various other ailments that could end his career (or at least his effectiveness) well before his early-to-mid 30s.
The changing of the offensive coordinator from old pal Bruce Arians to the controversial Todd Haley, that kind of hurt a little. At least it hurt fans like me who couldn't understand why the team would remove its top player's best coaching buddy, a guy whose system he began to grasp and understand just as he was entering his 30s--a time when a quarterback of Roethlisberger's skill-level and success should have been on auto-pilot as it pertained to running an NFL offense--and make him learn a new system and a new way of doing things.
But that's why they make the big bucks, as they say, and the team president, a man who comes from a football family as prestigious as the Rooneys, obviously knows more about the game and his business than I ever will.
And, let's be honest, a highly-skilled and accomplished professional quarterback should be able to adapt, which is what Roethlisberger did after some growing-pains and initial rumblings of he and Haley not being the best of buds. It also didn't hurt that Antonio Brown soon-emerged as one of the best wide-receivers in the NFL and that Le'Veon Bell now appears to be setting his sights for the top of the running back mountain.
At the "ripe old" age of 33, Roethlisberger finally has what every quarterback always strives for: A clear understanding of the offense and the horses to make it all run. And that all manifested itself last year, when he was near the top of the league in such coveted categories as yards passing, yards per attempt and quarterback rating.
Those statistics only tell half the story of how magical the 2014 ride was for Roethlisberger. Not a prouder moment was had by Yours truly than when Roethlisberger passed for 522 yards and six touchdowns against Andrew Luck and the Colts in a 51-34 victory at Heinz Field on October 26. However, a week later, when he passed for six more touchdowns against the Ravens in a 43-23 victory on Sunday Night Football, that may have been even more satisfying.
In the late 2000s, when Roethlisberger clearly wasn't the most popular player among his teammates or local reporters, one had to wonder how his future would unfold. And, in 2010, after the sexual assault allegations and the rumors that he was not the best man of the people in his travels around the City of Pittsburgh that ultimately led to just about every other fan in town wanting him to be traded away for anyone's top 10 draft pick, one had to wonder if he'd ever truly "get it" and mature into a team leader and the kind of quarterback you felt safe making the face of the franchise.
Here we are today, Roethlisberger is a husband and father of two, and it appears the latter portion of his career can be even more fruitful than the beginning and the middle. Whether that leads to just smashing every team quarterback record, a few years at the head of the NFL's "elite" table, or, hopefully, another Super bowl or two, that remains to be seen.
With the defense in the shambles it appears to be in (at least at the moment), one has to wonder if No. 7 can truly carry the day and bring home more silver. However, the Steelers won their first two Super Bowls of the 1970s on defense and running the football (with the occasional clutch Terry Bradshaw fourth quarter touchdown pass thrown in for good measure). But they won their last two Super Bowls of the decade mainly on Bradshaw's right arm, with him being named league MVP in 1978 and Super Bowl MVP in both XIII and XIV. In other words, while Pittsburgh's defense was a little older and slower in the late 70s, it kept things in-check long enough for the offense to emerge as a Super Bowl-caliber unit capable of carrying the load on a championship-level.
The Steelers had a great defense when they won their two Super Bowls of the previous decade, with Roethlisberger using his raw athleticism and talent to pull out many last-second victories along the way.
Now that he has the horses and the experience (and, soon, the new contract), maybe he can pull a Bradshaw of the late 70s and carry most of the load on the way to another championship (or two).
The past was great for Roethlisberger and the Steelers, but even after 11 years together, the future still looks bright for both.