“I'm the loser, I'm the winner. I'm the saint and I'm the sinner. I'm the hero, I'm the villain with each turning of the page.” (lyrics from a tune by Pittsburgh songwriter Bob Corbin)
In a sport distinguished by stunning grace punctuated by raw brutality, Benjamin Todd Roethlisberger has always stood out in the crowd. Whether this recognition stemmed from tossing 260-pound edge rushers off of his back or throwing laser-like passes unimaginable if you hadn’t seen them with your own eyes, Big Ben has always played the game his way, never allowing critics or blitzing linebackers to cramp his unique style.
Earlier in his career, No. 7 was the subject of serious allegations that opened the flood gates for many of those who disliked him principally because he was beating their favorite teams with such regularity. Ben endured an excruciating period when critics were questioning everything about him including his basic humanity. Many of the comments appearing on social media during that period — particularly those posted by fans of rival teams — were worse than vicious. The 600-plus sacks Ben compiled during his NFL career never hurt him half as much as the pummeling he received in the sports media between 2009 and 2013 when he was leading the Steelers to the second and third Super Bowl berths of his career.
While Ben easily might have left the team during those dark times seeking a change of scenery, he chose to remain in Pittsburgh where he continued to thrill fans and become the consummate leader to his teammates. Even after Ben married Ashley Harlan in 2011 and they started their beautiful family, the nasty barbs continued. But Ben blocked out the noise and continued to focus on family and football. During each of the 2013, 2014 and 2017 seasons, he passed for more than 4,000 yards, capping off that stretch by eclipsing 5,000 yards in 2018.
As his remarkable NFL career comes to a close, No. 7 can savor the memory of many great victories, not only on the gridiron, but also in his ultimate triumph over the crises and critics of yesteryear. Through his own determined efforts, Big Ben has become one of the most storied players in NFL history — and the great stories far outweigh the bad ones. Despite his outsized wealth and reputation, if contrition and humility were gold, Ben Roethlisberger would be the richest man in the world. He has paid far more than his dues both professionally and personally during his 18-year career.
Those who know Pittsburgh and its people understand only too well why Ben has become a sports idol. Like the hard-bitten steelworkers and other blue-collar folks who cheered his every TD pass, Roethlisberger has known his share of ups and downs over the years. At various times, he’s played the roles of both hero and villain. But the toughness and commitment Ben always represented on the gridiron far superseded the background noise, even though some still gnaw at the bones of grudge after all these years.
If you live to be 100, you'll not likely see anyone else playing the QB position quite like No. 7. Even Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees — each one a future Hall-of-Fame QB and Ben’s contemporary — could never have achieved the career longevity they did while suffering the physical pounding that was routine for Big Ben.
But with each one of those bone-jarring hits, and every time he magically escaped from what appeared to be a consuming pass rush, respect for Ben among the Steelers Nation faithful grew exponentially. For the tough guys and gals of a no-nonsense steel town, Ben has been the uncontested leader of the pack for nearly two decades.
But the time has come now for No. 7 to begin a new chapter in life — thankfully one that will afford the luxury of no longer living inside the NFL’s fishbowl, nor being nagged by the physical aches and pains accumulated during so many bruising NFL seasons. Don't be surprised to see Ben demonstrate the same humility, patience and leadership as a former player that made him so successful on the field.
The most iconic images of Ben Roethlisberger are those depicting the quiet confidence and steely determination of a true warrior who has owned his exceptional capabilities with the same frankness as his shortcomings. Big Ben's NFL career has played out as a recurring cycle of darkness and light, directly reflecting the man himself. His saga is the classical tale of a larger-than-life hero whose praises will be sung in Steelers Nation for many years after he passes from the scene.