Imagine what might have occurred in the past decade had the Steelers drafted offensive lineman Shawn Andrews in the first round in 2004 instead of Ben Roethlisberger.
That was their intention, until Dan Rooney stepped in.
Rooney, in his 2007 autobiography, wrote that as the countdown to the 11th pick of the '04 draft continued "our people seemed to have focused on Shawn Andrews, a big offensive tackle from Arkansas as our likely number-one pick.
"But when our turn came, I couldn't bear the thought of passing on another great quarterback prospect the way we had passed on Dan Marino in 1983, so I steered the conversation around to Roethlisberger. After some more talk, we came to a consensus and picked Roethlisberger."
The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Andrews with the 16th pick and he made three Pro Bowls before running into health problems that caused him to miss most of the past two seasons. Roethlisberger merely put the Steelers over the top and helped deliver two Super Bowl victories. As he approaches his 28th birthday March 2, he should keep the position in good hands for the Steelers well into this next decade.
For those reasons and more, Ben Roethlisberger earns our Steelers player of the decade with a chance to earn the next one as well 10 years from now.
Player • Seasons
1. Ben Roethlisberger • 6
2. Hines Ward • 12
3. Jerome Bettis • 10
4. Troy Polamalu • 7
5. Casey Hampton • 9
6. James Harrison • 6
7. Joey Porter • 8
8. Aaron Smith • 11
9. James Farrior • 8
10. Alan Faneca • 10
• Seasons with Steelers
Without Roethlisberger, the Steelers came close. Bill Cowher knows just how close. He coached them to four AFC title games and one Super Bowl without him. His team reached another AFC title game in Roethlisberger's rookie year before they won it all with him at quarterback in the 2005 season.
The late Art Rooney Sr., the franchise founder, once bemoaned them passing up Marino in the 1983 draft. In a back coffee room in the executive offices at Three Rivers Stadium, he explained what makes a team great.
"You cannot win without this," Rooney said as he made a passing motion with his right arm.
Cowher acknowledged as much in a recent interview. He noted how his teams played good defense and ran well on offense for most of his tenure as the Steelers' coach.
"I don't know if you can win a championship like that," he said on the phone. "We did that for many years and fell short without a quarterback."
They came close with Neil O'Donnell, whose interceptions ended their upset try of Dallas in Super Bowl XXX, and they came close with Kordell Stewart, their starter in two AFC title games at home. Roethlisberger delivered twice. While he did not play as well in Super Bowl XL, his performance in the playoffs that year helped put them in that game. And last year, he authored one of the Super Bowl's great final drives to win.
Along the way, Roethlisberger set many of the Steelers' passing records, including: single-game passing yards (503), season passing yards (4,328), 300-yard passing games in a season (5), completions in a season (302), completion rate in a season (66.6 percent), games of 100 passer rating in a career (36), season passer rating (104.1), touchdowns in a season (32) and more.
The No. 2 spot in our Steelers' player of the decade goes to Hines Ward, who has done what many believed nearly impossible with a predominantly running team such as the Steelers. He made four Pro Bowls in the decade and crushed virtually all of the team's receiving records. He also helped to infuse them with a work ethic seldom seen at the position.
Those influences are qualities held by all who made the top 10. Not only were players such as Jerome Bettis and Joey Porter Pro Bowlers, their leadership and influence on their teams carried immeasurable weight during the decade.