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Roethlisberger’s on-field glory was consistent

Eighteen years....has it really been that long?

It was the last Saturday in April 2004. I was driving to Greensburg to meet up with relatives for a family birthday dinner.

I was listening to the NFL Draft on the radio and with the Pittsburgh Steelers holding the 11th pick, it took some time until they were on the clock. Many fans and analysts believed the Steelers would select a quarterback, but Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers were already off the board.

Of course, Pittsburgh ended up taking Ben Roethlisberger and the Miami University product found himself thrown into the fire far sooner than we expected.

An injury to Tommy Maddox in Week 2 that season set in motion the Big Ben-era in Pittsburgh. It officially came to an end Thursday when Roethlisberger announced his retirement, though everyone knew it was coming.

How will he be remembered? That depends on who you ask. Though he passed for 64,000 yards and over 400 touchdowns, I will always think of snippets in time and moments of greatness above any one career statistic that he put up.

His ability to rescue a play from disaster and often playing better when facing heavy pressure are first and foremost in my memories of watching him.

Roethlisberger was clutch so many times in his career and that trait was apparent in his rookie season. Many fans who recognize him as a great quarterback now remember him as a mistake-prone game manager in 2004.

However, his stats do not reflect that. Sure, he was young and inexperienced and had a lot to learn, but his raw ability that year led to game-winning drives in the fourth quarter against Dallas, Jacksonville and Cincinnati.

At mid-season, he completely out-played Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb in back-to-back wins over the Patriots (34-20) and Eagles (27-3). Both teams were unbeaten prior to arriving at Heinz Field.

He had a good defense and a good running game that year, that’s what his detractors will say. I know of another quarterback who helped his team get to a conference title game as a rookie and fans said the same thing about him — Mark Sanchez of the Jets in 2009.

Here’s the difference — Roethlisberger had a quarterback rating of 98.1 in 2004. Sanchez came in at 63.0 his rookie season. The two signal callers were obviously at different levels, though many like to lump them together.

In 2005, Roethlisberger had an incredible stretch with near-flawless play in three AFC playoff games. And of course, there’s the tackle he made of the Colts’ Nick Harper to allow Jerome Bettis’ fumble become just a footnote and not a career-marring gaffe for Pittsburgh’s running back.

His game-winning drive that topped Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII is the stuff of legend, including the bullet he threw to Santonio Holmes in the end zone.

I’ll remember his scoring pass to Mike Wallace to beat Green Bay in a 37-36 instant classic in 2009...two late TD passes against the Ravens that helped Pittsburgh win the AFC North in 2008 (Holmes) and 2016 (Antonio Brown).

Big Ben had four 500-yard passing games in his career, most in NFL history. He became the first quarterback to pass for six TDs in back-to-back games in 2014.

Warren Moon, Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, Brett Favre, Fran Tarkenton, Kurt Warner and Jim Kelly — all great quarterbacks who would love to have Roethlisberger’s resume.

The only things missing for Big Ben are a gold jacket and a bust in Canton. He’ll receive both soon enough.

Derek Pyda is a staff writer for the Butler Eagle