After three AFC Championship game failures and a blown Super Bowl, Steelers chairman Dan Rooney put his thumb on the scale in the Steelers “war room.” Although general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Bill Cowher were content with quarterback Tommy Maddox, Rooney convinced them to draft quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with their first-round pick.
Prior to drafting Roethlisberger, the Steelers hopes to regain glory that the 1970s dynasty achieved were foiled due to poor quarterback play. From the 1990s to early 2000s, the Steelers had very good teams but quarterback play in the clutch always came back to haunt them.
Starting in 1994, the Steelers were heavy favorites against the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship Game but failed to win the game after a poor performance offensively and a goal line stand in the final minutes by the Chargers.
In 1995, the Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl, but quarterback Neil O’Donnell’s three interceptions left Pittsburgh still stuck with only four Lombardi Trophies. The Super Bowl team included future Hall-of-Famers Kevin Greene, Dermontti Dawson and Rod Woodson (albeit very limited action from Woodson).
In 1997, the Steelers once again got back to the AFC Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium. At quarterback this time around was Kordell Stewart. The wide receiver turned quarterback had a poor performance throwing three interceptions while failing to outduel Denver Broncos’ John Elway. Even Jerome Bettis in the backfield was not enough to overcome poor quarterback play, costing Pittsburgh a spot in the Super Bowl.
In 2001, the Steelers moved into their new home, Heinz Field, and they were able to open the inaugural by hosting an AFC Championship Game. Unfortunately, Stewart had another poor performance, as he threw three picks. The blame does not fall all on Stewart though, as special teams’ gaffes cost the Steelers big time in this game as well.
Pittsburgh, although keeping much of the same team from 2001 and still having future Hall-of-Fame running back Bettis, bottomed out in 2003. The 03 Steelers went 6-10 while being quarterbacked by Maddox, which prompted Rooney to persuade Colbert and Cowher to draft a quarterback. The quarterback turned out to be Roethlisberger.
In his rookie season, Rothlisberger showed his star power. After entering in week two for an injured Maddox, he rattled off 13 consecutive wins and the Steelers went 15-1. The Pittsburgh Steelers were back hosting an AFC Championship Game. Once again, however, they lost to the New England Patriots. The team played poorly and left a bitter taste in the mouths of players and fans. Pittsburgh’s AFC Championship Game woes were coming to an end though.
In 2005, the Steelers were back in the AFC Championship Game. After qualifying for the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, they advanced to the Super Bowl because of Ben Roethlisberger. On the road to the AFC Championship game, Roethlisberger tossed five touchdowns and only threw one interception. These numbers helped the Steelers defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card game and Super Bowl favorites Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional round.
This time around in the AFC Championship Game, Roethlisberger turned up. Against the Broncos in Mile High Stadium, he tossed two touchdowns and scored a touchdown with his legs to send the Steelers to Detroit for Super Bowl XL.
Unfortunately for Roethlisberger, Super Bowl XL was not his finest hour. Roethlisberger threw for only 123 yards and tossed two picks, including a lollipop throw near the goal line which almost was returned for a touchdown.
Even with his poor performance, he ended up winning the Steelers their fifth Super Bowl with a team that was very similar to the team in 2001 that lost to the Patriots. They still had Joey Porter, Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward, Alan Faneca, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, and more important pieces.
The Steelers 2005 team was still mostly around in 2008 and just needed good quarterback play to push an all-time defense over the top. Luckily, Pittsburgh was not trotting out Stewart or O’Donnell as their signal caller, but Roethlisberger.
In the 2008 playoffs, Roethlisberger did not put up gaudy numbers like he did in 2005; he did not need to. In his two playoff games leading up to Super Bowl XLIII, he tossed two touchdowns while never turning the ball over. Even performances like these from Stewart in AFC Championship games would have given Pittsburgh a spot in the Super Bowl.
In the Super Bowl, however, Ben Roethlisberger showed his ability in the clutch. Unlike O’Donnell who turned it over anytime the Steelers would try to get back in the game, Roethlisberger led a game winning drive.
Like a general leading an army, Roethlisberger changed protection and hit the opposition where they were not. This all culminated in one of the most iconic plays in Super Bowl history when Ben Roethlisberger delivered a pass over the outstretched arms of three Cardinal defenders into Santonio Holmes’ hands for the winning score.
Roethlisberger’s playoff and Super Bowl heroics led to the Steelers finally getting over the hump and lifting their fifth and sixth Lombardi trophies. Rooney’s foresight to see Roethlisberger’s potential allowed the Steelers to become true contenders for the first time in over two decades.