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  • Joshua Britton

Life After Ben

I’ve been struggling all football season with the thought of football-after-Ben. Ben’s last home game, on Monday Night Football, was a particularly emotional evening, particularly the pre-game and the nice tributes ESPN had put together. I didn’t stay up to watch the end because, now that I’m back in the eastern time zone, they end so darn late. But I watched highlights on YouTube and obsessively read about it the rest of the week. Sports can be really stupid in that way.

This Steelers season has not been good, frankly. It wasn’t projected to be good, and it defies logic that they found a way into the playoffs. People have been clamoring for Ben to retire all season, and really for a couple of seasons. This may be where my loyal-to-a-fault personality trait come into play, but it seems like there should be some level of appreciation for what Ben has done for the franchise, and therefore people shouldn’t say those things out loud.

Not to mention, it’s hard to find an elite quarterback, a Super Bowl-winning and Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback. The Steelers went more than twenty years between Terry Bradshaw’s last full-season and Ben’s first. And that’s normal. Look how long it’s taken the Bills to find a successor to Jim Kelly. The Browns have had like a billion quarterbacks since Ben first suited up for Pittsburgh. Some people hate Ben, and that’s based primarily on his first couple horribly immature years. It really depends on which side you were on previously, though. I see someone who behaved very badly, put himself in disgusting situations, and made some poor decisions. He was never arrested, but that won’t change what certain people want to believe. Just as I choose to believe that Baltimore’s Ray Lewis really did murder that person. Just as Brett Kavanaugh is or isn’t a rapist depending on which political party you root for. I see someone who came from a podunk town in Ohio, went to a lesser-known college, and didn’t know how to handle himself with his newfound instantaneous stardom. I see someone who subsequently went through press conferences in a business-like manner that came off prickly. I see a great competitor who was humbled for acting like an idiot, who turned his life around, married a nice Christian girl, and dedicated himself to raising a family and serving God, a God whom he never failed to thank during his postgame interviews over the last several years. I hope I’m right. I choose to believe I am. I won’t get into all of the statistics (never had a losing record in 18 seasons) to make a case for where he will rank among the all-time great Steelers (no offense to Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, and Jack Ham, but why shouldn’t he be number one?) or how he really will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. There have been hundreds of articles written about that by far more knowledgeable football writers and fans than me. Ben debuted six months before I met my future wife. I vividly remember watching the Steelers-Ravens at Bathtub Billy’s in the fall of 2004 when Tommy Maddox got injured and our rookie quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, entered the game. They lost the game, fell to 1-1 on the season, and I said to my father, “looks like it’s going to be another dismal season” (they had gone 6-10 the year before). I didn’t know anything about the rookie; I never paid much attention to the draft. But they finished an incredible 15-1 that year, thanks in large part to him. They lost in the AFC Championship game. I was upset (“It’s only a game” my soon-to-be-ex girlfriend said in an irritating attempt to console me; I was on the verge of meeting my future wife). As a fan of the frugal Pirates, I’m not used to splashy free agent acquisitions. The Steelers, despite spending as much as anyone, don’t make splashy free agent acquisitions either. I don’t know how long it will be before we have an above-average quarterback again; I have no confidence in current backup Mason Rudolph. It’s hard to imagine the Steelers signing or trading for someone like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, despite the many circulating rumor mill. I hope my ten-year-old son will retain memories of watching him play. Ben’s talent is a shell of what it once was, but it’s still going to be difficult watching the Steelers without the greatest Steeler of my lifetime.


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