By Jeremy Hritz
Though all football fans had time to prepare for it, the exit of Peyton Manning from his team of 14 years was saddening. As Colts fans across the United States reminisce about the insane statistics and abundant wins that Manning brought to the team, Jim Irsay and Chuck Pagano are preparing to begin the next era of Indianapolis football by selecting Andrew Luck as the first overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. If Luck’s college career is any indication, then the Colts should be set at the quarterback position for another significant stretch of time.
As Steelers fans, we can look upon the Manning situation objectively. However, within the next four to six years, or possibly sooner, we will all have to face the undeniable reality that Ben Roethlisberger will have to take his final snap.
The Manning situation is an opportunity for Steelers fans to take a moment to recognize and realize how fortunate the Steelers are to have a consistent and reliable franchise quarterback with a knack for winning games and championships because it simply cannot last forever. After the Hall of Fame career of Terry Bradshaw, the Steelers lurched into an epoch mangled by mediocrity, highlighted by run of the mill quarterback play by such dubious names as Mark Malone, Bubby Brister, Neil O’Donnell, Kordell Stewart, Kent Graham, and Tommy Maddox. The fans who followed the Steelers teams (mis)led by these quarterbacks understand the absolutely crucial nature of the position. In between Bradshaw and Roethlisberger, excellent defenses and strong offensive weapons were undermined and wasted by tenuous quarterback play. If the Steelers would have had a Bradshaw or Roethlisberger-type QB with some of these teams, the current gap in championships between the Steelers and other NFL teams would be insurmountable.
We have been fortunate as Steelers fans since Roethlisberger came into the league. In his eight seasons, he has led the Steelers to two Super Bowl wins, three total Super Bowl visits, and four trips to the AFC Championship Game. That repertoire alone outshines most teams’ histories. And there is no reason to believe that Big Ben will not get one or two more Lombardis before he (or an injury) puts a bow on it.
Manning’s exit from Indy is a chime on a grandfather clock reminding all of the NFL teams with franchise quarterbacks that all things will come to pass. And that includes the Pittsburgh Steelers and dear old number seven.
And what will that day be like for the Steelers, when we bid our field general farewell? Roethlisberger stepping up to the podium, flanked by the Rooneys and Coach Tomlin, saying his goodbyes?
Nauseatingly painful to imagine, yet eventual.
There is another component here to consider. All prosperous and consistently effective companies and organizations whose success is dependent on effective leadership all have succession plans in place to ensure that when the primary leader leaves, they have somebody prepared and talented to step in and produce. While the Colts are in a fortuitous position of having the first round pick in a draft with a quarterback considered to be once in a lifetime, the Steelers probably will not have such luck. And with the multitude of injuries that Ben has experienced over his career, hopefully the Steelers have at least started to consider a succession plan. While probably not this year or next year, the Steelers would be wise to draft a quarterback in the later rounds who they believe could be groomed by Roethlisberger to be his replacement. For such a first class organization as the Steelers, it would not be a stretch to think that the Steelers have the beginnings of a plan in place.
Avoiding future mediocrity will depend on it.