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Why 2021 truly is the ‘Year of Ben’ for the Pittsburgh Steelers

As in the past, the fate of the Pittsburgh Steelers this season rests squarely on Ben Roethlisberger's shoulders.

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If he never took another snap, Ben Roethlisberger would be remembered as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game. After the hugely deflating conclusion of the 2020 season, plenty of fans were saying Ben is finished as an NFL quarterback. In fact, many were calling on the team to release him and go back to the drawing board on offense.

But No. 7 had different plans and his decision to return for what's widely expected to be his final NFL season had nothing to do with money. For Ben, the 2021 season is all about the unfinished business of living up to his own standard of excellence after falling short in 2020.

Not even the most rabid, lifelong Steelers fan was any more disappointed than Ben Roethlisberger by the team's late-season implosion. Quite clearly, Ben doesn't choose to be remembered as yet another aging QB whose skills suddenly lapsed. As anyone who's witnessed his career should know, that's simply not who Ben is.

Ending his career on a high note is the only logical reason for Ben to return to the field (without his Pro Bowl center) to face the rigors of another long NFL season. And given Roethlisberger's immense talent and competitive spirit, this portends a season that every Steelers fan should welcome.

Of course, there's no pacifying the fan who's ready to fire the entire Steelers organization anytime the team falls short of a Super Bowl win. But for loyal, diehard fans, the spectacle of a great, veteran quarterback returning for his final NFL season ought to be satisfaction enough regardless of the outcome.

Ben has never made excuses for himself when the team loses. On the contrary, he invariably shoulders personal responsibility for a poor showing. And if Ben didn't care deeply about the Steelers organization, his teammates and his hyper-critical fans, there would be no reason to risk playing a final season. That's because, due to some new faces on the OL, there's no guarantee 2021 will be more successful than last season.

But that's exactly the kind of courage, toughness and leadership we've come to expect from No. 7 throughout his stellar career. Win or lose, 2021 is shaping up as Ben's Year. He's planning to own this coming season, just as he's owned his performance in every season since his rookie year. No more thoughts now about next season, only a singular focus on making 2021 the very best it can be.

It's precisely this type of go-for-broke challenge which Ben has always relished as a player -- and the main reason why he's become a hero to Steelers Nation.

So, with a successful NFL Draft in the books, it's time to get ready for what promises to be quite a memorable season, regardless of how the chips may fall.