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Mason Rudolph is about to lead the Steelers into the unknown

The Steelers and their fans haven’t had to experience life without a franchise quarterback for quite some time. But with Ben Roethlisberger out for at least the rest of the 2019 season, second-year man Mason Rudolph will step in under center and try to lead them into a very uncertain future.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

“There’s nothing worse than starting out 0-2 and being outscored 102-10 in the process,” some Dolphins fan may have said on Monday. To that, a Steelers fan may have retorted, “Hold my beer. Better yet, give me another one, or three.”

The biggest fear of many Steelers fans may have been realized on Monday when it was revealed that the elbow injury quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was visibly dealing with in a 28-26 Week 2 loss to the Seahawks at Heinz Field on Sunday will require surgery, forcing the 16-year veteran onto the Injured Reserve list for the remainder of the 2019 season.

So not only do the Steelers have to find a way to rebound from an 0-2 start, they’ll have to do so with second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph as the starter. Tall task? That’s an understatement.

Everyone knew this day would come, eventually. Not that this is officially the end to Roethlisberger’s career—though, it wouldn’t be a shocker if it was. After all, he wouldn’t be the first multi-time Super Bowl-winning Steelers quarterback to have his Hall of Fame career finally put to rest by an elbow injury—Terry Bradshaw comes to mind. And at age 37, he is eight years older than Andrew Luck, who recently decided that all the work required to rehab his body back from injury just wasn’t worth it any longer.

Not all Steelers fans were depressed upon hearing Monday’s news. In fact, I know many that are actually excited about what Rudolph can do. And those that aren’t excited about that, necessarily, are excited that old No. 7 won’t be around for the rest of the season. In other words, they hate him. I know, I’ve talked to many who have shared those sentiments over the years. Because of those hard feelings, they want to see Rudolph come in and light up every scoreboard from the one in San Francisco this Sunday, where he will get his first career start against the 49ers, to Heinz Field, where he’ll likely get his second career start against the Bengals eight days later.

Then, there are those who want to see Rudolph fail, not because they hate him or even Roethlisberger. They just really hate head coach Mike Tomlin and want to see just how “great” he is without a franchise quarterback to prop him up.

I don’t know why anyone would wish for anything but success for their favorite professional football team, but hey, that’s people.

So, how will Rudolph do? Based on his NFL debut on Sunday in-which he completed 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, there’s hope. He looked poised and confident. He looked comfortable in the pocket. But the odds say he’ll likely not have the same kind of success that Roethlisberger did and perhaps will continue to have if he ever plays again.

Franchise quarterbacks, they don’t grow on trees. This is why it took two decades for the Steelers to find a suitable replacement for Bradshaw. This is why the Dolphins are still looking for their next Dan Marino 20 years after he played his last game for them. This is why John Elway needed the perfect storm of Peyton Manning missing the entire 2011 season, the Colts finishing with the worst record in the NFL, Andrew Luck coming along as a generational college talent and Indianapolis owing Manning a huge roster bonus, just to finally find the Broncos a quarterback that was as good as Elway was when he played for them.

But long odds or not, we really won’t know until Rudolph gets out there and starts to do his thing. All that’s known for sure is Rudolph is leading the Steelers into the unknown, a place they haven’t had to venture to for a decade and a half.

If you’re a twenty-something fan, Big Ben is the only Steelers quarterback you’ve likely ever known. You’ve never had to see the team try and get by for more than a few games without No. 7 doing his thing, a thing that includes unique abilities that few people who have played his position ever possessed.

This may be why it's been so hard to convince you that simply grooming a successor isn't as easy as it sounds.

This is why you're likely to roll your eyes at the possibility that Roethlisberger's true successor may actually be someone whose parents haven’t even met yet.

But, again, there’s hope. There’s even precedent. I believe his name is Tom Brady. I may have also accepted Kurt Warner or, to be a little more realistic, Dak Prescott.

It is possible that Rudolph will step in and do a decent to really great job as the Steelers quarterback in 2019 and even beyond. But there’s also a more than realistic chance that he doesn’t have what it takes.

We will never know until we know.

That’s the thing about the unknown, and as it pertains to replacing those rare franchise quarterbacks, to reiterate, it’s a place the Steelers and their fans haven’t had to explore for a very long time.