It goes without saying that NFL Draft decisions can make or break careers, but what is often overlooked is the dramatic effect other people's decisions can have on the trajectory of a franchise. Ben Roethlisberger was not necessarily destined to be the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In fact, his first head coach Bill Cowher did not even have him listed as the top priority going into the 2004 NFL Draft.
“I told Mr. [Art] Rooney that we are going to take a lineman, but if one of these quarterbacks gets to us, we are taking them because they are too good,” Cowher recalled on Roethlisberger's podcast, Footbahlin, via Still Curtain. “So I said I don't think I would trade up for any of them. I said I think we are okay with Tommy [Maddox], we got Charlie [Batch]. I said I think we are okay.”
There is a lot of information there. Some surprising (no coach should be content with that type of subpar QB production) and unsurprising (Steelers love their linemen). Ultimately, it was a perfect pairing football wise. The roster was deeply talented and just needed a signal-caller to put everything together. Roethlisberger won Rookie of the Year and went to the AFC Championship.
He was part of the famous QB class that also featured Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. There were multiple teams ahead of Pittsburgh in the draft order that could have used Roethlisberger under center. Their oversights potentially spared Bill Cowher a public lambasting for his own contentment.
The coach-turned-CBS analyst rode off into the sunset after the Steelers won Super Bowl 40. His pupil grabbed another a few years later.
Almost two decades later, Pittsburgh hopes they have the next quarterback to bring everything together in young Kenny Pickett.