By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Eleven years ago, I came to accept the fact that Ben Roethlisberger was going to tie Tom Brady by winning his third Super Bowl. Roethlisberger was 28 years old, already a two-time winner, about to take on the Packers in Super Bowl XLV in Dallas. The Packers were the better team, favored by three points, but there was something about the uninspiring performance by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers against the Todd Collins/Caleb Hanie-led Bears that had me readying for the fact that Ben Roethlisberger was about to be placed on equal ground with Tom Brady.
And with Brady being 34 years old at the time, it felt as though there was a very real possibility that Roethlisberger would go on to rack up more Super Bowls than the man who had just a few years prior been considered the modern-day Joe Montana.
It was pretty messed up.
Obviously, it never really came true. Brady proved that old age is dead, winning four more Super Bowls between the ages of 37 and 43. And Roethlisberger lost that Super Bowl, a game in which he was thoroughly outplayed by Rodgers.
And though Roethlisberger lost, we all figured he’d be back. Many times over. Starting in three Super Bowls in your first seven seasons — and winning a couple of them — tends to have that effect.
Alas, despite playing for one of the NFL’s premier franchises, despite never having to suffer through a single painful rebuilding process, despite a wealth of offensive talent surrounding him, and despite six more playoff appearances, Roethlisberger never made it back to the big one. He only made it to the conference championship one more time, getting blown out by the Patriots in Foxboro in 2016. Ten years ago, that seemed impossible.
Roethlisberger won’t be playing in any more Super Bowls, either, as he formally announced his retirement this week. His physical decline had been evident for several years. He was never exactly a fitness enthusiast to begin with, and his penchant for taking several hits while refusing to ever go down in the pocket without a fight surely worked to limit his longevity. His retirement was no surprise.
Still, it represents a new era for Pittsburgh football, and a bit of a reminder that winning championships on a consistent basis is not guaranteed for anybody, no matter how their career may begin.
Brady won three Super Bowls in his first five years in the league. He’d have to wait a full decade to win another one, and his sixth and seventh Super Bowls were only possible due to his psychotic discipline to somehow continue playing through his 40s.
Russell Wilson won a Super Bowl in year two and lost a Super Bowl in year three. Like Roethlisberger, Wilson seemed destined to go on that Brady track, too. But he and the Seahawks are 3-5 in the playoffs since that fateful Malcolm Butler pick, unable to even reach the conference championship, let alone the Super Bowl. A once-budding dynasty is dead.
Rodgers certainly seemed to be on that path, too. Though he got a late start, becoming the Packers’ starter at age 25, he won a title within three years. With that talent, and that organization, surely some more championships would be on their way. But they’ve never made it back to a Super Bowl, with last weekend’s flop (at home, on a frigid and snowy night against a California team) dropping their playoff record to 7-9 since beating the Steelers. They’ve made it to the NFC title game four times since 2011 (twice at home, once against a Florida team), losing each time.
The fact that Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers were the Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in 2009 and 2010, only for neither QB to make it back to a Super Bowl for the decade that followed? It remains a bit mystifying.
It also might serve as a warning of sorts to keep expectations in check for the current class of young, surefire stud QBs. Patrick Mahomes has the one Super Bowl under his belt and appears to be on his way to fill a whole trophy case full of Lombardis. The paths of the Hall of Famers who wrapped up their career during his ascent should serve as a cautionary reminder that nothing in this sport is ever guaranteed.
If Mahomes wins this weekend, he’ll be playing in his third Super Bowl in just his fourth season as a starter. He lost in the AFC Championship Game to Brady and the Patriots in 2018 (in overtime), he won the Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP in 2019, and he lost last year’s Super Bowl to Brady and the Bucs. He’s now heavily favored to end up back in the season’s final game for the third straight year. Again, all signs are pointing to a never-ending stretch of prosperity in Kansas City.
Yet the career for the 26-year-old could follow the once-in-a-lifetime Brady route, or it could follow the path of Roethlisberger. It’s worth remembering that at this point in time, we just don’t know.
Seems like a good time to make some picks for conference championship weekend.
(Home team in CAPS; Thursday lines)
Cincinnati (+7) over KANSAS CITY
I’m 100 percent willing to admit that my judgment may be impaired from last weekend. I may be of the belief that it’s illegal for football games to be decided by more than one possession, that games cannot be won until the very last play, that leads don’t actually exist in our current realm of reality. Perhaps that’s a factor.
Yet while I do think the Chiefs have activated Scary Chiefs Mode, and while I do worry about poor Joe Burrow getting knocked out of the game after taking his 26th sack in the first half, the Bengals’ Week 17 win over the Chiefs gives me enough confidence to think this one can and should be close. The Chiefs had a bye on the line that week but lost anyway. It wasn’t a throwaway game. And Burrow was a monster (30-for-39, 446 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs). And the Chiefs’ defense hasn’t exactly shown that it’s gotten any better over the past month.
What I’m saying is I like the Chiefs to win the game … but I like those seven points a lot more.
San Francisco (+3.5) over LOS ANGELES RAMS
I am once again picking the inferior team but the Rams are desperate to kick their season away. Doing it at home, in a building full of rowdy Niners fans, feels like the right opportunity to get it done.
We saw the Rams blow a 17-0 lead and lose at home to the Niners in Week 18. Then we saw the Rams blow a 27-3 lead last week, eking out a win in the final minute to avoid tremendous embarrassment.
Do they have another collapse in them? Is it a part of the Sean McVay/Matthew Stafford DNA to crumble as much as possible? Or has it just been bad luck?
I know where I lean with my answer. You can make your own choice.
They say it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season. That’s true. But isn’t it also true that it’s hard to beat a team that’s already beaten you twice?
Just something to think about.
Let’s hope this weekend is half as good as last week.
Last week: 2-2
Regular season: 152-119-1