One Pittsburgh Steeler is a 36-year-old, veteran NFL quarterback who, by the time he hangs up his cleats, surely will rank as one of the all-time greats of professional football. The other Steeler is a callow, 22-year-old who excelled as a college QB but is only beginning to get his feet wet in the super-competitive NFL. Whether they like it or not, Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph have been thrust into the mentor/understudy relationship which typically paves the way to a changing of the guard at football’s most crucial position.
The fourteen years in age separating Big Ben and Rudolph might appear to pose a significant obstacle to development of their relationship as teammates. But in reality, these two men already share some important and deeply-held connections which, in time, could make their association one of the most constructive in the NFL.
We’ve all seen it — in the wake of any number of trademark TD passes by No. 7 — Ben lifts his eyes to the heavens and points skyward in honor of his mother, Ida, who died from injuries suffered in a tragic car accident when he was only eight years old. In this dramatic way, Ben redirects the focus from his personal moments of glory to the cherished parent who made all of his triumphs possible.
As a star QB for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Rudolph employed exactly the same ritual to honor the memory of Gavin King, a 4-year-old stricken by brain cancer for whom Rudolph served as a heroic, big brother during the latter stage of the boy’s illness. Following Gavin’s death, Rudolph began using the skyward gesture in the moments following OSU’s scoring plays. But only he knows for sure whether those actions might have been inspired by watching Roethlisberger at quarterback for the Steelers.
Beyond the tributes these men have paid on the gridiron to those lost along the way, the two quarterbacks also share Christian roots and sincere faiths. Researching Rudolph’s background, it’s difficult to find anything disputing his reputation as a veritable Boy Scout. But whereas Rudolph’s religious convictions are widely documented by numerous sources, Ben’s personal beliefs have largely been overshadowed and obscured by the events leading up to his 4-game suspension by the league in 2010. Few fans these days seem to realize or recall that, years before these damaging revelations, Ben was a 2004 rookie QB who adorned his cleats with the letters “PFJ” to signify “Play for Jesus.” Furthermore, to the surprise of many in the sports world, The Washington Post published a January 2012 editorial entitled “God’s Quarterbacks” which spotlighted the spirituality of former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow and Roethlisberger.
Thus, even though Rudolph, in many ways, might seem to be the alter ego of Big Ben, the two men actually have a great deal in common. Certainly, there’s some basis for a genuine friendship to develop between the mentor and his new understudy. And lest we forget, a wide variety of religious experiences exist in today’s world — including the nirvana experienced by the Steelers Nation faithful each time Ben rifles another scoring bomb to Antonio Brown.
On one hand, Ben realizes — no matter what he does for the rest of his life — dogged critics will continue to assail his character. As for Rudolph, he fully understands that, unless he ultimately achieves feats of quarterbacking prowess similar to those of No. 7, few fans in the Nation for which BTSC stands will care much about what a fine, Christian guy he is. As a testament to the hazards of this tightrope walk between NFL success and failure, consider that Tebow may be found these days making cameo appearances on HGTV or playing baseball for the minor-league Binghamton (NY) Rumble Ponies.