PITTSBURGH, Pa. — When National Football League teams gathered in New York City for the 2004 NFL Draft, the big name everyone was talking about was Eli Manning. Manning comes from a family of quarterbacks and was hot on the heels of his brother Peyton. He was highly desired by two teams, the Giants and the Chargers, and the suspense regarding his fate as the teams orchestrated a trade dominated coverage of the draft.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher was looking for a quarterback and with 11th pick overall, the team was just hoping to draft whoever was left. Cowher reportedly favored Phillip Rivers, but the Giants picked him up and promptly traded with the Chargers for Manning. That left Ben Roethlisberger. The Cleveland Browns picked sixth and were expected by many to pick the local favorite, but didn’t.
In hindsight, it’s astounding that after the first 10 teams made their picks, the quarterback from Miami University in Ohio was still available. ESPN showed his anxious face as pick after pick passed him by and his agent tried to reassure him of his professional future.
Finally, the phone call from Cowher to Commissioner Paul Tagliabue marked the beginning of a new era for the team as Roethlisberger was announced as the 11th pick overall and first pick for the Steelers on April 24, 2004.
Cowher said Roethlisberger would become a “franchise quarterback” but no one could have predicted how soon “Big Ben” would fulfill that prophecy.
Roethlisberger started his rookie year playing third to Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch. Batch was injured in a preseason game and Maddox had mixed success before also succumbing to injury in the regular season’s second game. Roethlisberger made his first NFL plays (including a touchdown pass and an interception) but the team still lost to the Ravens.
The Steelers’ plans to give Roethlisberger a season or two seeing light action and learning his craft evaporated as a result of Batch’s and Maddox’s injuries. Roethlisberger found himself under intense scrutiny as he became the starter and exceeded all expectations as he led the team to 13 consecutive victories and the AFC Championship Game.
The Super Bowl would elude Roethlisberger in that rookie season, but he’d go on to earn two rings for the city and a place on the all-time greatest quarterback list. He also tarnished his career with a series of off-field escapades in the wake of those trophies that soured many fans and led to a suspension before he matured into a team leader.
On April 24, 2019, Roethlisberger signed a two-year contract extension with the Steelers.
In September, it was announced that he would be out for the season for surgery on his right elbow but is expected to be ready for the 2020 NFL season.