That word became a mocking refrain for certain radio hosts and fans all throughout the early portions of the Steelers' 2022 offseason. But there was a reason for that word being thrown around a lot and that subject dominating the headlines and the debates: Ben Roethlisberger announced his retirement in January after 18 glorious seasons filled with championship success, awesome memories—the whole 64,088 yards.
It became quite apparent early on that Pittsburgh’s brain trust, consisting of owner Art Rooney II, general manager Kevin Colbert, and head coach Mike Tomlin, was determined to find the team’s next quarterback and do so as quickly as possible. This helped fuel the vocal minority who wanted the Steelers to bring in someone like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, or even Deshaun Watson. After that didn’t happen, and even after the Steelers signed veteran Mitch Trubisky at the onset of free agency in March, the weeks of news coverage prior to the 2022 NFL Draft were fascinating, redundant and downright stressful.
Would the Steelers, who seemingly looked under every quarterback rock from Pittsburgh to Liberty University, use their first-round selection to take someone from a class that was considered to be underwhelming at best?
Yes, and his name was Kenny Pickett, the pride and joy of the University of Pittsburgh, a football program he helped rescue from the past thanks to a glorious ACC Championship Game victory in 2021.
As the Steelers begin their first training camp without Roethlisberger since the summer of 2003, they do so with a full war chest of quarterback contenders: They invested in a veteran in free agency; they invested in a high-pedigreed rookie in the draft; they even still employ Mason Rudolph, a 2018 third-round pick who, as hard it is to believe, may have a more realistic chance of winning the starting job in 2022 than he actually did during Roethlisberger’s less-than-stellar final few seasons in town.
Yes, this 2022 Steelers preview article has been dominated by quarterback talk up til now, but, again, there’s a reason for that.
It’s like what Terry Bradshaw once said: “You may lose with me, but you’ll never win without me.”
People love to talk about the twenty-year period between Bradshaw and Roethlisberger as if it were the Great Depression and Steelers fans were standing in lines desperately hoping for crumbs of memories. However, while the first half-decade or so after Bradshaw retired was mediocre-to-worse, the 1990s and early-2000s were mostly awesome under new head coach, Bill Cowher; the Steelers went from has-beens under Chuck Noll, to contenders again with Cowher, the hometown boy, stalking the sidelines at old Three Rivers Stadium and new Heinz Field.
There was only one thing missing from those contending teams that made the playoffs eight times, the AFC Championship Game four times and the Super Bowl one time between 1992-2003: A quarterback who could put the franchise over the top.
The Steelers finally found that man in Roethlisberger, the final piece to a Super Bowl puzzle that had been so frustrating to complete.
Roethlisberger even kept the Steelers, a team that was a far cry from its 2000s Super Bowl days, from sinking into a familiar post-championship abyss in the 2010s—something Bradshaw may have been able to prevent in the mid-to-late-’80s, despite Pittsburgh’s mostly mediocre roster, had he not retired at the age of 35. Heck, this is something that Pitt’s Dan Marino may have been able to do had the Steelers been smart enough to select him in the 1983 NFL Draft.
Again, “You may lose with me, but you’ll never win without me.”
We can talk about the youth of the Steelers as they prepare for the 2022 regular season. We can talk about running back Najee Harris and the offensive line. We can talk about a defense that has the potential to be good-to-dominant.
We can talk about T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
We can even talk about Tomlin and his legacy.
But Tomlin’s legacy, as well as the legacies of Watt, Heyward, Fitzpatrick, etc., will be shaped in part by how quickly the Steelers can find their next great quarterback.
If it’s as soon as 2022, that guy just might be able to lift up the Steelers boat and allow it to compete in choppy AFC waters that will include Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and the aforementioned Wilson and Watson.
Speaking of Noll and Cowher, this may actually be the most important transition period for the Steelers since 1992; only, instead of a head coach, they’re trying to replace a legendary quarterback.
Yes, it might be cliched to say it’s all about the quarterback for the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers, but isn’t it, though?
The Steelers may lose with a great quarterback, but they’ll never win without one.