Cook: Batch to the future
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Charlie Batch said Thursday he wants to play for the Steelers again next season.
There's just no way, right?
Batch is 36, the oldest man on the team, 32 days older than the next guy in line, linebacker James Farrior. He's the third quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, the fourth if you count injured Dennis Dixon.
Really, there's no way the Steelers will bring back Batch next season.
Or is there?
I learned a long time ago not to count out Batch. You think the Steelers overcame great odds and survived a variety of on- and off-the-field adversity to make it to Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers Feb. 6? No one overcame greater odds or is more of a survivor than Batch.
Let's give the man his due right now:
Batch saved the Steelers' season when Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games and Leftwich and Dixon were injured. Kind of ironic, isn't it? All through training camp and the preseason, Batch was regarded as too fragile by coach Mike Tomlin to make it through this season -- his 13th in the NFL, his ninth with the Steelers -- yet it was Leftwich and Dixon who got hurt. Batch was the only quarterback standing in the Tennessee game in Week 2, the Tampa Bay game in Week 3 and the Baltimore game in Week 4. "The only viable guy," Batch said, nodding.
You might say history repeated itself.
Batch led the Steelers to midseason wins in Green Bay and against Cleveland in 2005 when Roethlisberger was out with a knee injury. The team went on to win the Super Bowl.
This season, Batch took over for the injured Dixon early in the second quarter at Tennessee and led the Steelers to a 19-11 win. He threw three first-half touchdown passes in a 38-13 win at Tampa Bay. He came up just a bit short in the 17-14 loss to Baltimore despite taking the team 93 yards in 13 plays for a 14-10 lead with 7:14 left.
"Who said you can't play anymore?" safety Ryan Clark asked Batch. "They're crazy."
In the four games without Roethlisberger, the Steelers went 3-1. Who saw that coming? It's no coincidence the team is back at the Super Bowl.
"I didn't want to let the guys down," Batch said. "You never want to be the weak link."
His teammates are appreciative of Batch's contributions. They've always appreciated him, even when he didn't get in the games. They admire his professionalism, his selflessness, his team-first attitude. They especially admired him in the summer when he didn't say boo when he was little more than an afterthought in Tomlin's plans.
Actually, Batch did say something to the coach.
"If you need me, I'll be ready."
So Batch was. Not bad for a guy who wasn't supposed to make the team.
Tomlin traded to bring Leftwich in as the Steelers' starter in April when it became evident Roethlisberger was going to be suspended because of a sexual assault allegation against him in Milledgeville, Ga. Tomlin acknowledged he had concerns about Batch's durability after Batch missed much of the 2009 season with a broken wrist and all of '08 with a broken collarbone. Batch got very few reps in camp and the exhibition games and almost certainly would have been released in the final cut if Leftwich hadn't gone down with a knee injury in the final preseason game.
That same durability issue with Batch led Tomlin to go with Dixon as his starter in the opening game against Atlanta, won by the Steelers, 15-9, in overtime. It seemed again as if Batch would be released once Roethlisberger returned, at least until Dixon went down with his own knee injury in the Tennessee game.
Think about it:
Would the Steelers be getting ready to go to Dallas for the Super Bowl if the only viable guy hadn't been there to take over?
"I'm just glad I was able to make a contribution to the team," Batch said.
Now, the man is one win from a third Super Bowl ring. With his hometown team, no less.
Batch said he will sit down with Tomlin after the Super Bowl to talk about next season and make his case. "My body feels fresh," he said. "It isn't telling me to quit. It doesn't feel 36. And mentally, obviously, I'm still there."
Batch wouldn't rule out playing for another team, but that seems unlikely. He has been here too long. He grew up in Homestead and has deep roots in the area. His Best of the Batch Foundation has done marvelous work for the community. The Steelers would be smart to find a place for him in their organization when his career is done.
Of course, that could be as soon as Feb. 7.
Tomlin likely will go with Leftwich and Dixon as his backups to Roethlisberger next season. The odds against Batch playing another season seem overwhelming.
There's just no way, right?
Or is there?
First Published January 28, 2011 12:00 am