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Bradshaw To Ben Took Far Too Long


The Steelers have been fortunate to have two HOF QB’s when most franchises don’t even have one in their history.

Imagine what could have been, because the opportunity was there. The hometown hero was available, but instead, the Steelers went with a defensive tackle named Gabe Rivera over Pitt quarterback Dan Marino. If the Steelers had selected Marino, they could have avoided the thirteen different starting quarterbacks used between Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger, and who knows, maybe even had a few more Lombardi ?s before Roethlisberger rolled into town. Can you imagine how different things might have been? If nothing else, having Marino in between Bradshaw and Roethlisberger would have made those twenty years a lot more exciting. Besides that, I ?m sure Dan Marino and the Pittsburgh Steelers taking on Mark Malone and the Miami Dolphins in the ?84 AFC Championship game would have yielded much better results. Instead of getting to live out that football fantasy, Steeler Nation had to suffer through atrocities such as Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone, David Woodley and Kent Graham. Sprinkled in among those horrible performances from some of the worst starting quarterbacks ever were relief appearances from Scott Campbell, Todd Blackledge, and Steve Bono.

Not all of the quarterbacks between Bradshaw and Ben were totally horrible, but oddly enough, they are the ones most vilified. Bubby Brister was entertaining at times and had a big arm. Unfortunately, he thought he was way more valuable than he actually was and left in search of more money. Neil O ?Donnell was an efficient quarterback who didn ?t throw too many interceptions, but when he finally got the Steelers to a Super Bowl, he suddenly decided to pull off his best Mark Malone imitation, not once but twice, costing the Steelers their fifth Lombardi Trophy. Mike Tomczak replaced O ?Donnell and proved he was much better as a backup, which paved the way for Kordell Stewart to assume the starting role. Kordell was already a fan favorite when he became the starting quarterback, based on his role as Slash. Soon after that, however, he fell out of favor because of inconsistent play. Although he could do things on the football field few other quarterbacks could, his problems were compounded by the fact that he lacked the mental toughness to overcome the criticism he faced.

After a short stint with Tommy Maddox as the starter, Bill Cowher finally realized that to get to the promised land, he had to get himself a franchise quarterback. In the 2004 NFL Draft, the Steelers took Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th pick of the first round. It ?s no coincidence that the Steelers went on to win two Super Bowls in the next five years, along with a third trip in 2010. In today ?s NFL, it takes a franchise quarterback to win a Super Bowl, and the Steelers are approaching the time where they will soon have to start planning their search for the heir apparent to Big Ben. What the Steelers can ?t be afraid of is taking their guy a year or two earlier than they may want to. They also can ?t afford to shy away from being aggressive when the time is right to pull the trigger. Being conservative has served the team well over the years, but what the two decades in between Bradshaw and Roethlisberger proves is that you can have a stellar defense and some nice weapons on offense, but an average NFL quarterback is only going to get you so far.

Sure, it ?s just speculation after the fact, but there is a good chance that between the ?84 team and the ones from ?94- ?97, at least one of them would have brought home the fifth and maybe a sixth Super Bowl title had Marino been drafted. The 2001 team was legitimately a franchise quarterback away from a Super Bowl appearance as well. Granted, there are no guarantees when it comes to predicting who is going to be a franchise type quarterback. There are far more busts than there are successes, but failure is almost guaranteed when you make the choice to play it safe at the most important position on the football field. Look no further than this year ?s Steelers’ offense for proof. The Steelers had LeVeon Bell, Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller and Antonio Brown on the field, with Michael Vick under center. The offense looked anemic and predictable. Replace Vick with Roethlisberger, and the offense once again looks like one of the most explosive and dangerous in the NFL. Hopefully this season remains in the minds of the powers that be, as an example of how important Big Ben and his type are when it comes to winning championships. As much as it hurt watching the Packers celebrating a Super Bowl Championship at the expense of the Steelers, it wasn ?t even close to matching the level of pain that came from watching an average Neil O ?Donnell hand Larry Brown an MVP award, along with another Lombardi to the Cowboys.

At 33, Ben Roethlisberger probably has another three to four years left at the level he is playing at now. Hopefully the organization has learned their lessons from the twenty year debacle between 1984-2004. As a current reminder, all they need to do is to turn their attention to Cleveland to see how bad choices at the quarterback position can hold a franchise back. After watching the best quarterback play in the history of the franchise over the last twelve years, Steeler Nation will not settle for a substandard replacement when the day finally comes for Ben to walk away. If the Steelers have a franchise type quarterback drop into their laps, they have to take him. If they have an opportunity to trade up to get him, they need to do that, but either way, they can ?t wait until Roethlisberger is gone before they get him. They need to be prepared for life after Ben while Ben is still on the roster, not twenty years after he retired.

About Brian Harker (31 Articles)
Brian is a Steelers contributor to the Point of Pittsburgh. Born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, he currently lives in Wheatfield, Indiana where he is a steelworker at ArcelorMittal USA. Brian is a blogger/Co-owner of Pittsburgh Sports Forum and

6 Comments on Bradshaw To Ben Took Far Too Long

  1. Jamie Barnhart // November 28, 2015 at 1:36 PM // Reply

    I hope you had a good Thanksgiving! Man, I remember that summer they took Rivera. He was paralyzed in a car accident, a victim of his own drunk driving. So, not only did we not get Marino, we got nothing! And I remember counting the likely championships with Marino as they passed us by. That ’84 team was at least as good as the Dolphins, with the exception being at QB. I don’t blame Chuck for not taking him. He had a bad senior year. Too much partying made sense as a reason. Marino could’ve ended up a Manziel.
    My question to you is about the difficulty in making another franchise QB happen. How many on average come from any one draft? One? Maybe two? Obtaining Bradshaw was easy because they had the number one pick. We were lucky to get Ben with the 11th pick! Pittsburgh hasn’t drafted in the top half with Tomlin and Ben, and might not until after Ben becomes current Peyton Manning. You’re suggesting not waiting til then, but you’re then probably talking about trading your entire draft to move up to number one to “guarantee” a franchise QB pick. And what if you swing and miss? I just don’t have confidence that they have a way to assure another franchise QB until After Ben is done. Let’s say they pick at 16 in a couple of years and trade up to get one. That puts us in a Brett/Aaron fiasco because it may be hard to tell when Ben will hang them up. He’s the kind of competitor who won’t go quietly into the night. I don’t know. I think we might just have to wait, and then get lucky again.

  2. Thanks Jaime, I had a pretty good Thanksgiving, hope you did to. I know it’s not easy finding a franchise quarterback and that there are no guarantees. I also remember thinking that the Steelers never seemed to put a whole lot of effort into it either. The philosophy seemed to be that if they had a solid defense and a running back, that a game manager at the position would suffice. It wasn’t until they got Ben that they won a couple of more Lombardi’s. My hope is that they have learned that quarterback is a position where you can be aggressive without being stupid about it. That they don’t have to settle for the Cliff Stoudt’s, the Bubby Brister’s or the Mike Tomczak’s of the world. If they believe they have their guy identified,they need to go after him, without being Cleveland stupid, instead of hoping he falls to them.

  3. Jamie Barnhart // December 1, 2015 at 2:46 PM // Reply

    Couldn’t agree more. I wonder if ownership was just too old school cheap during those years, and just wasn’t willing to spend franchise kind of money. I remember that it took about a decade of free agency before they finally stopped letting everyone walk when it came to payday. Kris Brown, Mike Vrabel, Earl Holmes, Orpheus Roye, Carlos Emmons, Brendan Stai, Charles Johnson, Chad Brown, Leon Searcy, Eric Green, and Neil O’Donnell are just the draft picks I can think of that they let walk, over money while they were starting level players, during Cowher’s tenure. Towards the end, he seemed to be allowed to keep more players, and they’ve been spending right up to the cap ever since, so I hope with you that they’ve learned the lesson you’ve described.

    • I think frugality had a lot to do with it in those days. Revenue increased with Heinz field and they kind of went the other way when they overpaid older defensive players to win one more Lombardi. I think this time they won’t be hesitant to invest in a QB to replace Ben when the time comes, especially since there cap finances are vastly improving.

    • Tom From Pittsburgh // June 30, 2016 at 9:24 PM // Reply

      Most of those players were average at best. Earl Holmes was never a star or worth star money. Chad Brown was a career back up who had one good year, then wanted to cash in for a star salary, he played many years in the NFL, but was never a star & never worth big money. Eric Green was inconsistent, had attitude and drug issues. The NYJ offered to make O’Donnell the highest paid QB in the league, in Aikman & Marino territory, for a guy who in 5 years as a team leading passer topped 200 yards per game only twice, with a career high of a measly 17 TD passes, who couldn’t scramble or throw deep….that was outrageous. The massive failure his post Steeler career was and the fact Pgh won 23 games and two Div Titles the next two years with Mike Tomczak & Korbel Stewart proved how (un) valuable Neil was to the team success.

      One thing Pgh has done very well in the Free Agency era is knowing which players not to over pay for, many of whom were outright busts after leaving The Steelers.

      • Jamie Barnhart // July 1, 2016 at 8:16 AM // Reply

        Actually, most of those players have All Pro and/or Pro Bowl on their r sum . Average players did not make the Pro Bowl back then. Most of the players that immediately replaced them were not as good at the time.

        The bottom line, and our point is, that not spending for better players probably cost the team championships back then. They didn’t win any between Bradshaw and Roethlisberger, but they might have if they didn’t let so much talent walk, or not prioritize the QB position.

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