Unfortunately, I was negative-two-and-a-half years old at the time and have no memory of it.
I do remember the hoopla that surrounded Bradshaw’s official retirement in the summer of 1984. I can recall the press conference that Bradshaw and the Steelers had with the local media. I can still hear the fits of laughter that broke out among the reporters when Rocky Bleier, who was a few years into retirement at the time and working as a Steelers analyst for Channel 11, raised his hand and deadpanned: “Rocky Bleier, WPXI.”
Heck, even Dan Rather (at least I think it was him) mentioned it on the CBS Nightly News broadcast the day Bradshaw’s retirement became official. I remember thinking as a 12-year old that this whole thing was a huge deal. Joe Greene retired a few years earlier and there wasn’t as big a deal made about it. Lynn Swann and Jack Ham both retired after the 1982 season. Mel Bount followed them a year later. I just recall brief news blurbs—no huge pressers.
I guess it’s just a bigger deal when the franchise quarterback hangs up his cleats for good. They have a huge press conference, tears are shed, people are thanked, reporters ask them what network they'll be working for, the whole works.
Fast-forward to 2004 and that year’s NFL Draft. I was 31 at the time—33-and-a-half-years older than when Bradshaw was selected. I was at work on this day, managing a small business. It was a Saturday, but that doesn’t mean much to most folks working in the “real” world. I couldn't watch the draft, but I could listen to it on my little radio in the back area where I spent a good bit of my day.
Who would the Steelers draft? Would they finally pull the trigger on a potential franchise quarterback in the first round, something they hadn’t done in nearly 25 years? There was this Ben Roethlisberger fella, this big guy with the long and funny name from Miami University (the one in Ohio), who had been linked to the Steelers for quite some time. But the Steelers weren’t the only team that needed a quarterback at the point of the draft where Pittsburgh, who was also linked to Philip Rivers, was picking at 11.
The Browns, drafting in the sixth spot, needed a quarterback. The Bills, selecting two spots behind Pittsburgh, could possibly make a move into the top 10 to try and find their next Jim Kelly. Cleveland passed on Roethlisberger at six, while Buffalo failed to make a move before it was the Steelers’ turn at 11.
Would the Steelers finally draft a quarterback? It didn’t seem to fit head coach Bill Cowher’s mostly conservative way of doing things—at least on offense. He was all about the smash-mouth, run-first style of offensive football. He was about defense, too. Besides, his guy from his alma mater, Rivers, was long gone. Also, Tommy Maddox, the toast of the town just two years earlier, appeared to be in a strong enough position as the team’s starting quarterback heading into the ‘04 campaign.
Anyway, you know the story; the Steelers did select Roethlisberger (as Steelers lore tells it, the late Dan Rooney was VERY persuasive in getting his brain trust to make this decision), and the rest is history. Yes, sir, I’ll never forget where I was when the commissioner announced the pick...I was away from the radio and tending to the business of managing employees. That’s what happens when you’re a manager—you’re never in the same place for more than a few minutes. Taking a break? Good luck with finishing that cup of coffee before they call you over the intercom. Enjoying that great song on the radio? There they go again, calling you to the front right before it gets to the good part. As for a day-long affair such as the draft? You can listen to it off and on, but it’s mostly off; hopefully, the stars will align just right so as to allow you to hear who the Steelers select in the first round.
Nope, by the time I got back to my little radio, the local analysts and beat writers were already weighing in with their opinions on the pick.
It was certainly a great 18-year journey for Roethlisberger, one that I don’t need to recount to you here and now. After all, if you’re a fan of the Steelers and/or football, you know what Roethlisberger meant to the Steelers and how he made them a marquee franchise once more. You know that he holds a special place in not only Steelers history, but in NFL history.
I just always figured that, when Roethlisberger finally decided to hang up his cleats for good, there’d be the big press conference, complete with the tears, the thank yous, the questions from reporters about his future (I think you can rule out Roethlisberger working with one of the big networks who have always gone out of their way to not appreciate him as much as other quarterbacks of his caliber—not even Roethlisberger is THAT tough), the whole works.
But none of that happened on Thursday morning when Roethlisberger officially called it quits. Nope, instead, he released a video on social media and announced it while in his living room, sitting next to his wife and kids. He shared memories, thanked a bunch of people and might have even gotten a little emotional (it was hard to tell). Not the way I pictured any of this going down—for example, instead of sitting in front of my television, I saw it on my smartphone as I lounged on my living room couch.
I was shocked. It came out of nowhere. I mean, not the retirement or anything—we knew that was happening as far back as January 3—but the way it went down.
That’s okay, though. As wise people often tell us, it’s not about how you begin or end, it’s the journey in between. While I wasn’t necessarily thrilled with how Roethlisberger’s career with the Steelers officially began or ended, I certainly was happy with the journey in between.
I remember where I was when I saw The Tackle. I remember third and 28 in Super Bowl XL. I remember Ben to Ten in Super Bowl XLIII. I remember the time he defeated the Baltimore Ravens with his nose splattered all over his face.
I can go on and on.
Ben Roethlisberger's 18-year journey with the Steelers was what mattered the most.