Monday morning June 12, 2006. I was sitting in an airplane on a tarmac at the Pittsburgh International Airport. I was on my way to Riviera Maya in Mexico for my honeymoon. I just had a very long draining week. My cell phone rang and it was Chris a great friend of mine who after being in my wedding was headed back home to North Carolina from his parent’s home in Pittsburgh. Chris, a Steelers fan tells me that it had just been reported that Ben Roethlisberger had been in a serious motorcycle accident in downtown Pittsburgh. I asked him how bad the accident was not really expecting to hear Roethlisberger suffered more than minor to moderate injuries. Chris paused stating: “Not sure. He might not make it. Bad head injury. It doesn’t look good.”
I was stunned. Even today it is hard to explain the feeling I had. I wasn’t on the phone with Chris for more than a minute when it was announced on the plane that cell phones had to be shut off. In 2006 My phone didn’t have the internet. I would possibly have to wait 8 to 10 hours until we got to the hotel in Riviera Maya to find out Roethlisberger’s status. On the flight a range of emotions swirled through me. I was about to begin my honeymoon and I hadn’t had any vacation or time off of work for over 6 years. I was exhausted and looking forward to a much needed relaxing stress free week and then I was hit with this extreme and distressing news.Chris reported the information to me as soon as it was reported in Pittsburgh. We only talked briefly. If I was at home I would most likely have left work and been glued to the TV all day somehow willing Roethlisberger to pull through just like I use to think the Steelers would win when I was a kid – because I was watching. But I wasn’t anywhere near a TV, I was on a plane on the way to a place I wasn’t sure would even follow the Roethlisberger story.
During the long plane ride I couldn’t help but feel distraught thinking about Roethlisberger, his young promising life hanging in the balance. I wondered why he was riding a motorcycle, how fast, what happened, how it happened. These feelings of potential immediate loss of his life and or career were intertwined with the now deflated hope that I had for the Steelers because of Roethlisberger, my life as a Steelers fan which included the last 3 decades of disappointments and near misses including one Super Bowl, 5 AFC Championship losses and now how this loss, if it were to turn out that way, would be more devastating than all of the rest combined.
Roethlisberger: A New ERA
I thought the 2005 season was the beginning of a new era for the Steelers. For the Steelers and the fans there was no need to worry about the quarterback position for maybe the next 12 to 15 years or so. Roethlisberger was only 23 and the youngest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl. The Steelers had finally gotten a franchise quarterback. We as fans finally had thee guy, we were set. Roethlisberger was unlike any quarterback in the league and was a perfect fit for the Steelers. Surely more Super Bowl titles would be there for the taking. Steelers fans had waited so long for this. For him. Now in one split second Roethlisberger’s life, his career and all of the hopes and dreams for Steeler nation might all end instantly and – tragically.
XXVI Years Between Super Bowl Titles
Roethlisberger had just finished his second year. Just 4 months earlier the Steelers beat the Seahawks to win Super Bowl XL. Steelers fans had waited 26 years for another Super Bowl title. It was a long painful wait. When the Steelers won their last Super Bowl title in 1979 it was their 4th. No one else had more than 2 but since that time: Baltimore won 1; Oakland/LA Raiders, Denver and the NY Giants all won 2; Washington, New England and Dallas each won 3. San Francisco won 5. But now with its 5th Super Bowl win Pittsburgh had just reclaimed its spot at the top of the league tied with Dallas and San Francisco for the most overall titles.
In 2004 Roethlisberger’s rookie year the Steelers went to the AFC title game. Now in his second year the Steelers were Super Bowl champions. Even though Ben did not play well against the Seahawks, he was the reason they got there which he does not get enough credit for. His play in the 2005 playoffs was spectacular.
But aside from his brilliant playoff performance and maybe even more importantly: Roethlisberger was the only reason why the AFC Divisional game against the Colts doesn’t haunt every die hard Steelers fan every day of every football season for the rest of our lives.
One of the Worst Calls In NFL History Sets Up One Of Its Greatest Plays
The Steelers dominated the Colts all game. The Steelers deserved to win but almost had it ripped away because of one of the least talked about but worst calls ever made in the history of the NFL: Troy Polamalu’s interception to seal the game was horrifically over ruled on instant replay. Polamalu traveled approximately twelve yards with complete control of the ball, stumbled, rolled and in the process of getting back up to run his knee poked the ball out of his hands which he immediately recovered. But the Steelers overcame referee Pete Morelli’s beyond atrocious reversal when Joey Porter sacked Peyton Manning at his own 1 yard line with a couple minutes remaining in the game. Game over right?
Bettis’s Fumble & Roethlisberger’s Tackle
What are the odds that the fastest player on the field, Colts cornerback Nick Harper who recovered Bettis’s fumble, having a clear 96 yards ahead of him with only one player, a lumbering 6′-5″ 240 pound quarterback 20 yards away in the middle of a field, 53 yards wide, to beat, wouldn’t score? Astronomical? Big Ben came through with his magic once again. The more I think about it the more amazing Roethlisberger’s tackle was. The Steelers went on to win their 5th Super Bowl.
Roethlisberger Saves Steeler Nation From a Lifetime of Heartache
Had the Steelers lost that game Jerome Bettis would have lived the rest of his life in sports infamy. His Hall of Fame career possibly tarnished. He would be mainly remembered for – one play. For Steelers fans this once in a lifetime type loss against the Colts would have created a wound so deep it never would have healed because it would never have been forgotten because that highlight would never go away and each time it replayed, would open that wound right back like it just happened. A piece of each Steelers fan soul would have died that day and been sent straight to hell.
Now just 4 months later, for the second time, Steeler nation was facing another possibility of a loss unlike anything ever seen before in the history of the NFL by any team, at any time. A loss more devastating, unexpected, abrupt and cruel it would have been immeasurable and incomprehensible.
After arriving in Riviera Maya I was not able to find out how Roethlisberger was doing. All the channels in the hotel room were in Spanish and even though there was an ESPN, it was ESPN Deportes and they weren’t covering the story. Even if they did I wouldn’t have been able to understand it. It wasn’t until the next day, June 13th’s USA Today paper that I was able to find out that Ben Roethlisberger not only was going to survive but most likely was going to be able to resume his football career. What a relief.
Imagine The Devastation and Heartbreak To The Organization & Fans If Both Events Didn’t Go The Way They Did
What if the Steelers lost to the Colts on Bettis’s fumble and then 4 months later tragically lost Ben Roethlisberger? It is unfathomable but something I often think about it: Just how close the organization was to total ruin for years to come. Every year since that nearly tragic day June 12, 2006, I realize how lucky I am as a Steelers fan to have Big Ben as our quarterback. I love the way Ben Roethlisberger plays the game, his competitiveness, his drive and his will to never quit and to fight until the end. Even though he is rarely mentioned in the top 5 quarterbacks in this league I don’t believe any of the others would have been able to be as successful in Pittsburgh as Roethlisberger. Now with the 2013 season approaching, with less years remaining than he has played and with many injuries already piled up, Roethlisberger’s career could be over in a snap – literally.
Roethlisberger: Another Season, Another Opportunity To Appreciate
Since his motorcycle accident Roethlisberger has given Steelers fans many great memories including two more Super Bowl appearances and one more Super Bowl victory with an incredible 2 minute drive ending on one of the greatest touchdown passes in NFL history. History would be different because these things would not have happened if Ben had not recovered.
Besides his motorcycle accident he has also caused Steelers fans headache’s with whispers of being a locker room diva and an assortment of off field behavior from boorish to allegations of serious criminal conduct.
Despite those other distractions this article today is a reminder to Steelers fans not to take Roethlisberger for granted, but to realize and appreciate what it is we have in him. It was a long road – almost 3 decades – between Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger. It might be just as long a road or longer until the next great Steelers quarterback. Hopefully we have four, five, maybe six good years left with Ben. Appreciate him now because once he is gone you will never see another one like him in a Steelers uniform in your lifetime again.
My Season Outlook & Sunday Prediction: When I look at this years team I think it might win as little as 5 games or if everything comes together as many as 11 or possibly even 12 with the easy schedule and everything falls just right. This opening game is one of those games I look at on the schedule and think of as a win. Sunday is a bigger game than most openers because of the direction the team seems to be heading in due to overhaul in personnel and leadership in the last 2 years.
If the Steelers lose to the Titans it is an ominous sign for the upcoming season and I look for them to be under .500 this year. I also feel that this is a make or break year for Tomlin as far as what type of coach he is. I don’t see him in trouble of losing his job unless he produces a 3-13 season of total disarray. I think the depth of the roster is the worst it has been in a long time and Tomlin has regressed as a coach since the players he inherited from Cowher have left the organization. However my prediction for Sunday’s game is a Steelers win. Otherwise it could be a long year.
Tags: Ben Roethlisberger Bill Cowher Jerome Bettis Fumble Mike Tomlin NFL Instant Replay Nick Harper Pittsburgh Steelers Pittsburgh Super Bowls Referee Pete Morelli Roethlisberger Motorcycle Crash Steelers Colts 2005 AFC Divisional Playoff Game Troy Polamalu