Earlier this offseason, longtime Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and likely future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger retired after an 18-year career. As the team gears up for its first season without him since the early 2000s, Roethlisberger has some things to say.
We already detailed his assertion that former Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert wanted Roethlisberger to retire earlier, while the Rooney family was content to let him continue playing. Within the same story where Roethlisberger commented on Colbert, he also talked about the way his career as a whole panned out.
Asked by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (h/t ProFootballTalk) about his career regrets, Roethlisberger first mentioned the team’s Super Bowl XLV loss to the Green Bay Packers. Then, he appeared to blame the team’s lack of more recent playoff success compared to early in his career, on the coddling of younger players.
Another big regret was the fact the Steelers won just three playoff games since that 2010 run to the Super Bowl.
“I feel like the game has changed. I feel like the people have changed in a sense. Maybe it’s because I got spoiled when I came in. The team was so important. It was all about the team. Now, it’s about me and this, that and the other.
“I might be standing on a soapbox a little bit, but that’s my biggest takeaway from when I started to the end. It turned from a team-first to a me-type attitude. It was hard. It’s hard for these young guys, too. Social media. They’re treated so well in college. Now, this new NIL stuff, which is unbelievable. They’re treated so special. They’re coddled at a young age because college coaches need them to win, too. I know coach [Terry] Hoeppner never coddled me [at Miami of Ohio]. Neither did [Bill] Cowher.”
Roethlisberger alleging that today’s players are coddled — but he wasn’t — is quite rich, considering the way the Steelers catered their offense to him even as he was clearly in decline and then sub-replacement-level as a player during his final seasons.
The Steelers maintained one of the league’s lowest play-action rates because he did not like turning his back to the defense. They rarely utilized pre-snap motion because he felt it affected his picture of the defense. Both play-action and motion have been shown to have positive effects on passing efficiency, which the Steelers desperately needed to juice in Roethlisberger’s later years. But Roethlisberger preferred to sit in shotgun and fire off quick passes close to the line of scrimmage, putting the onus on the team’s skill position players to do most of the work in the offense — and the Steelers accommodated him. (Perhaps the omission of Mike Tomlin as a coach who never coddled him was purposeful, and he was acknowledging that he was coddled later in his career?)
As our friends over at PFT mentioned, Roethlisberger also benefitted from friendly media treatment, what with the near-memory-holing of the sexual assault and rape allegations levied against him early in his career. (No charges were filed, but Roethlisberger was suspended for violating the league’s personal conduct policy and ordered by commissioner Roger Goodell to undergo a “comprehensive behavioral evaluation by professionals.”) The allegations were rarely mentioned, let alone the focus of intense attention, as he received (mostly deserved, based solely on the totality of his on-field accomplishments) something like living-legend treatment during his final NFL season.
In any event, the assertion that today’s players are coddled but Roethlisberger was not, would not reasonably be expected to lead to a relative lack of success for the Steelers but not other NFL teams. After all, teams like the Saints, Packers, Giants, Ravens, Seahawks, Patriots, Broncos, Eagles, Chiefs, Buccaneers, and Rams presumably used younger players than Roethlisberger on their way winning Super Bowls XLIV through LVI.