Regardless of this season’s dismal conclusion, the Pittsburgh Steelers remain an organization steeped in tradition, loyalty and glorious success. During the majority of the 1970s, the Steelers were the team nobody wanted to see on their schedule, as Chuck Noll assembled a juggernaut that captured four Super Bowl championships within a 6-year span. Adding two more NFL championships during the first decade of the 2000s, the Black-and-Gold became the league’s most successful franchise until the New England Patriots tied Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl win total on February 3, 2019.
Ben Roethlisberger is an absolute lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his place among the greatest quarterbacks in history is assured. Even approaching the age of 39, only a handful of NFL quarterbacks today can match Ben’s ability to pass a football with velocity and accuracy. During his remarkable career, No. 7 has given Steelers Nation countless thrills, as well as the perennial expectation of rooting for a contender regardless of all the personnel changes around him.
Despite the big bucks Ben would earn if he returns to the field later this year, his decision won’t be dictated by money. As the undisputed leader of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’ll come down to Ben’s personal feelings about whether there’s still something he wants to give back to the Steelers’ ownership, his teammates and the league’s most rabid and loyal fan base.
Whatever Ben decides, though, it’s important for Steelers fans to realize the outcome of the 2021 regular season is hardly the most important factor. Quarterbacks like Roethlisberger and Terry Bradshaw come around only rarely, and it’s obvious the team would be better off having #7 on the field next September than any other QB they’re likely to sign.
Should Ben decide to hang up his cleats this offseason, only a wild-eyed optimist could imagine the team somehow locating a long-term heir to his throne by the start of the 2021 season. The ever-impatient Steelers fan base must confront the painful reality that, when Ben walks away, the Black-and-Gold will find themselves on the threshold of what’s likely to be a lean period in the team’s storied history. And whether Ben returns to the field later this year or not, it’s unlikely to afford any solace to the fair-weather fan who cannot accept anything less than a seventh Super Bowl trophy next winter.
Watching the conference championships, a couple of things really stood out. First and foremost, nobody gets to the Super Bowl these days without a franchise quarterback. Should Bruce Arians win his first-ever Super Bowl as a head coach, everyone knows it’ll be because the Tampa Bay Bucs signed Tom Brady and his sidekick Rob Gronkowski, along with the beastly Leonard Fournette from the Jacksonville Jaguars and ex-Steeler Antonio Brown. Likewise, Andy Reid would still be in search of his first NFL championship if the Kansas City Chiefs hadn’t drafted Patrick Mahomes to trigger a Chiefs’ offense that already was loaded with talent when he arrived on the scene.
Secondly, all four teams that reached the conference championships possess solid running attacks to complement stout pass protection. No team can expect to reach the Super Bowl with the anemic running attack the Steelers displayed this season. It’s beyond obvious that Pittsburgh’s offensive line simply isn’t up to par with the units this season’s Super Bowl contenders are putting on the field. Furthermore, despite showing pro-level capabilities, neither the injury-prone James Conner nor the other running backs on the Steelers roster are on a par with the league’s premier backs.
Clearly, the team’s issues run deeper than the mere fact that age seems to have crept up on Ben Roethlisberger. Because we can’t expect all of these issues to be resolved during the course of the 2021 regular season, there’s no reason why Steelers fans shouldn’t welcome No. 7 back to the field in September if he opts to return. As both a player and a leader, Ben has more than earned the right to leave the game strictly on his own terms. And should Ben simply decide he’s had enough, the accolades he so richly deserves would then start pouring in to wash away the criticism and second-guessing No. 7 faced during the course of a particularly difficult and frustrating season.