Big Ben, Bradshaw two of a kind (2024)

The Steelers’ quarterback was stretched out on the field near the end of the first half and carted on a stretcher into the locker room. His teammates and coaches thought he was done for the season.

Not close. Not only did he play again that year, he trotted onto the field to start the second half of the game and led them to victory.

Those who have watched Ben Roethlisberger play the past five seasons know that kind of scenario is well within his character, the same as it was Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw. Indeed, Bradshaw seemed down and out many times in his career, only to return as he did on that Oct. 1, 1972, day in St. Louis.

“We thought he broke his ankle,” said Ralph Berlin, the Steelers’ longtime trainer, now retired. “We got him inside, got the tape off, and he started walking around and said, ‘This feels pretty damn good.’ We taped it back up, and he started the second half.”

Bradshaw returned and threw a 38-yard touchdown to Frank Lewis with 1:06 left for a 25-19 victory in the third game of the season. It helped launch the Steelers to the first division championship in their history, an important step to their four Super Bowl triumphs in the 1970s. And it helped make possible the Immaculate Reception victory against Oakland, their first playoff win.

Many people see similarities in Bradshaw and Roethlisberger, two big, hard-throwing quarterbacks who went down hard, bounced back quickly – seemingly miraculously at times – and were always looking to make plays.

Sometimes, they held the ball too long and paid a price; often, they held it just long enough to pull off a magnificent play.

Roethlisberger’s best example this season came in Jacksonville when he completed a third-down pass late, with two Jaguars hanging on him, that led to a comeback victory.

“Ben is like Bradshaw,” said 1970s safety Mike Wagner. “He’s going to fight to the bitter end to make a play.

“Whether it’s the Immaculate Reception or Ben running around to make a play, both were trying to achieve the same thing. They’re both talented hard-nosed guys.”

Wagner has heard things said about Roethlisberger that were said about Bradshaw 30 years ago – that they milk injuries for high drama. It began for Roethlisberger when he complained about having broken toes after the AFC championship game loss to New England in his rookie season, and coach Bill Cowher disputed it. It’s happening again because he was dramatically carted off the field on a stretcher Dec. 28 near the end of the first half against Cleveland, even though it was “only” a mild concussion.

“Sometimes, fans and the media don’t appreciate the nature of an injury because the only one who can is the player,” Wagner said.

Roethlisberger will bounce back again from an injury to start in the divisional playoff Sunday against the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field. If that’s drama, his teammates are all for it.

“Ben’s a damn tough guy,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “He’s one of the biggest competitors in this locker room. Any time anyone goes down and someone’s poking their fingers and they can’t feel it, that’s scary. Anytime you get numbness and things like that you have to take every precaution. That’s the trainers’ job to do that, and they did it. Luckily, it was only as severe as it was and he can hopefully help us win this week.”

Roethlisberger has been sacked 139 times over three seasons, yet he’s missed just two starts in the past 3-½ seasons: the 2007 meaningless regular-season finale at Baltimore and the 2006 opener after his appendectomy, which came after his June motorcycle accident.

“Look at what the guy’s been through from the time he got here,” Keisel said. “He’s been through a lot and still stands up in the pocket and makes guys miss and makes plays for us. I think he’s tough as hell.”

His teammates voted him co-captain of the offense this season, and he’s not the aloof quarterback some make him out to be, especially with his offensive linemen. They play poker almost weekly at his house, he often takes them to dinner and he paid all their expenses to fly to Chicago during the bye week this season to celebrate center Justin Hartwig’s birthday.

“He took care of everything,” Hartwig said. “He takes care of us. He does a lot of good things for us off the field. He’s a good dude.”

Bradshaw’s last dramatic comeback occurred in 1983. The Steelers needed a victory against the Jets in New York to make the playoffs. Bradshaw had not played all season because of an injured right elbow. He started that game, threw two touchdown passes and walked off the field clutching his elbow. It was his final gift to the Steelers and their fans. They won that game to make the playoffs, and Bradshaw never played again.

Dick Hoak, who coached those teams as well as through Roethlisberger’s first three years, sees the similarities.

“Ben’s a tough guy, he takes a lot of hits,” Hoak said. “Some of it is his fault, some the line’s fault. He’s always trying to make a play, so he’s going to get a lot more hits than a regular quarterback. That’s the difference between him and other guys.”

There’s another difference – a big one. Ben Roethlisberger, like Terry Bradshaw, wins. His 51-20 record is the second-best percentage in the league behind the Patriots’ Tom Brady. And Sunday, he starts another journey that again could land him in familiar Bradshaw territory: the Super Bowl.

Big Ben, Bradshaw two of a kind (2024)


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