Ben Roethlisberger turned 34 years old on Wednesday.
In a league where the two quarterbacks who just battled for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50 were a combined 77 years old, 34 is fairly young. However, who would have thought No. 7 would have even made it to his mid-30s as a quarterback for the Steelers? If his propensity for keeping plays alive as long as humanly possible and taking hit after hit didn't cause him to lose his effectiveness, his less than savory off-the-field antics may have done him in (and, according to reports, they almost did).
But not only did Roethlisberger's swashbuckling ways get a bit of a makeover, his off-the-field ways did as well.
And, you should give most of the credit has to go to him, because, as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink it. Or, like Apollo told Rocky right before he fought Clubber Lang at the end of Rocky III: "It takes a helluva man to change, and you did it."
It's no surprise that Roethlisberger's maturation into a solid citizen has coincided with his evolution into a refined and streamlined NFL quarterback, who has maintained his status as one of the tops at his position in the NFL. Others could have surpassed him by now, but there he remains, always in those same discussions with Brady, Brees, the Manning brothers, etc.
In-fact, you might say his time is again "now," and that the twilight of his career will be as successful in terms of championships as the first seven years, when he led his team to four AFC title games, three Super Bowls and two championships.
It wouldn't surprise me. After all, Roethlisberger is a team-leader now and a captain. He not only holds himself accountable, but he challenges youngsters like Martavis Bryant to improve and come up big in the playoffs. Long gone are the days when Charlie Batch would have to take Roethlisberger aside and admonish him for not being a good teammate. Long gone are the days when the media would publicly rip him a new one because he would avoid interviews and childishly exclaim, "I ain't never gonna win a Rooney Award!" as he walked out of the locker room.
Of course, the sad thing about Roethlisberger's maturing age is that you can certainly see the end of the line. Sure, the end might be at least one more presidential term away, but didn't it just seem like yesterday, when you were actually pinching yourself because the Steelers finally found themselves a young, franchise quarterback with a bright and extended future ahead of him?
Besides, one never knows when any player will decide to call it a career (still reeling from Heath Miller's retirement), and with the plethora of injuries Roethlisberger has accrued throughout his 12-plus seasons, well, you just never know.
I do know I will appreciate however many years remain for Roethlisberger, because I know what the alternative will probably be--I think everyone knows it. All you have to do is look around the NFL at those unfortunate teams that don't have what they call a franchise or "elite" passer; in most cases, in ain't pretty. And if you don't want to look around, look back in-time, to those years after Bradshaw and before Big Ben.
In most cases, that sure wasn't pretty, either.
But you don't have to think about that stuff, right now. Just sit back and know that your favorite football team will have a chance to win a title next season and probably the next few after that. Why? Because a franchise quarterback is always the missing piece to the puzzle, and since 2004, the Steelers puzzle has been complete.
Here's to many more, Big Ben.