Ben Roethlisberger came into the 2015 season with three NFL first-team All-Pro players on his offense, each of them coming off of spectacular seasons and proving to be the best at their jobs in the league. Those three players are Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Maurkice Pouncey. Many thought that, with this cadre of superstar talents working with the two-time Super Bowl champion, Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh's offense might be destined to be one of the best units the league had ever seen and the Steelers looked like they might have the best chance of any team to be champions of Super Bowl 50.
But halfway into the season, the Steelers sit at .500 with a 4-4 record, and Ben Roethlisberger will not play even a single down with his All-Pro teammates on the field together in the 2015 season.
Compounding the injury that has kept Maurkice Pouncey on temporary injured reserve for all of the 2015 season, Roethlisberger had to work without Le'Veon Bell and his up-and-coming target, Martavis Bryant, for the early part of the season due to their off-field mistakes that led to their suspensions.
But as soon as Le'Veon Bell was able to return, the team lost Roethlisberger for four weeks due to injury. Though the team stayed afloat in Ben's absence, yesterday's loss of Bell for the season came as the death knell to many hopes of Steelers fans who wanted to see the full complement of this offense's weapons.
But the tone that should be heard this week is not one of hopelessness and "maybe next year" thoughts. Rather, what must ring clear is that the team still has its leader in Ben Roethlisberger to lead the way for a team that still has several stalwart players.
Greatness is not achieved simply through the accomplishment of a person's goals, it is forged in meeting the obstacles along the path that one must walk to reach those goals.
Many Steelers fans have thought Roethlisberger to be a severely underrated player among the NFL's quarterbacks. This Summer he was ranked as the 26th best player in the NFL and the sixth best quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson on the NFL Network's "Top 100" list.
The loss of Le'Veon Bell doesn't mean that 2015 is no longer the season of opportunity that Pittsburgh fans thought it would be. It just means the road to the team's ultimate goal could be achieved amidst the most turbulence that any team has ever seen, and that adversity could be the makings of a dynasty.
The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970's overcame their own pitfalls and injuries on their path to become the greatest dynasty in the history of the modern era in the NFL. The team lost talented players such as Benny Cunningham for a full season and once was down to its third-string quarterback with a record of 1-4 in 1976. There were a litany of injuries in those days which the Steelers had to endure, but they did to win the most Super Bowls in a six-year span in NFL history.
Those Steelers of the 1970's had legends at every position to a degree that the 2015 Steelers, let alone any other team in the NFL, may never be able to put together. Still these new Steelers do have several players that know how to fight and win. What both generations share is a fearless leader at the quarterback position that can take and give shots as good as the best int he world. The former had Terry Bradshaw, a first overall pick who would win four Super Bowls and two Super Bowl MVP's. Today's Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger, who in his eleven NFL seasons has won half as many championships as Bradshaw did during his career.
Though no quarterback has ever won more Super Bowls than Bradshaw, his legacy still often leaves him out of the discussions of the greatest of the greats when it comes to quarterbacks. Many point to his statistics and the fact that he worked with a star-studded cast for most of his career. During his time with the Steelers, Bradshaw had eight other hall-of-fame players on the roster; an asset that he and Pittsburgh capitalized on better than any franchise has ever done.
Roethlisberger might not have eight hall-of-fame players on the Steelers' roster this year, but he certainly has worked with at least one future hall-of-fame player in Troy Polamalu and possibly another in Hines Ward. With the All-Pro players on the roster now he could also have other players later to be bronzed in Canton, Ohio.
What Roethlisberger can do now is to be the fearless leader who galvanizes Pittsburgh's roster for one of the most improbable runs the franchise has ever seen. Ben has been part of a similar ride before. In 2005, as a second-year player in the NFL the Steelers sat at 7-5 with a tiny window of opportunity to make the playoffs after taking a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at home. Roethlisberger came back from an injury after watching the Ravens beat the Steelers, but then lost two straight starts to send the team on a three game losing streak. Then, the Steelers' defense was the strong side of the team that helped carry it to a fifth Super Bowl victory.
Ten years later, it's the Steelers' offense that's considered to be the stronger side of the team. Ben Roethlisberger wasn't the driving force of the 2005 Super Bowl season, but today he must be if the team hopes to win its seventh Super Bowl this season.
Roethlisberger's task is tall because, at 4-4, the Steelers are all but eliminated from the race for the AFC-North title with the Bengals sitting at 7-0 and already with a victory over Pittsburgh to help with tiebreakers. He's without his All-Pro center (hopefully not for the entire season), his starting left tackle, his All-Pro running back and he's coming back from an injury that sidelined him for four games and might have ended his season. He wears a knee brace for the first time in his career from that devastating blow, and the team still has a tough schedule ahead.
But this is a stage perfectly set for Roethlisberger to showcase just how far he has come as both a quarterback and a leader in the NFL. Pittsburgh's defense is a great deal better than what anyone outside of the team expected, and the offense still has talented playmakers in Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, as well as reliable role players such as David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert and the ever-dependable Heath Miller.
Big Ben's greatest accomplishment in an NFL season so far was the 2008 season with the dramatic last-minute touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes. He can surpass that this year by turning the season from a lost opportunity and a slew of injuries into the ultimate statement of his career. Conquering what would be the greatest obstacles that any team could face would be the ultimate testament to Roethlisberger's ability as a quarterback and tenacity as a leader.