Batch is back, and happy about it


He wasn't planning on a lengthy stay, not by any means. Both sides saw it as a short-term arrangement at the time, but it didn't take long for Charlie Batch and the Steelers to realize theirs was a match made in football heaven.

Assuming Batch plays out the terms of the two-year contract he signed on March 25, the relationship will have lasted a decade. And both sides couldn't be happier it did.

When Batch came to the Steelers after being released by the Detroit Lions in one of those post-June 1 salary cap moves back in 2002, he saw himself as an NFL starter very much in his prime. And he had ammunition for his argument, because at that time Batch was 27 and coming off three seasons in which he started 34 games and passed for 6,838 yards and 38 touchdowns.

When the Lions cut him, it was too late in the process for Batch to find a team where he could compete for a starting job, so he signed a one-year deal with his hometown team be No. 3 on a depth chart that also included returning starter Kordell Stewart and Arena League refugee Tommy Maddox.

In the third game of that season, Bill Cowher benched Stewart and replaced him with Maddox, primarily because Maddox had 18 months more experience in the Steelers' offense than Batch. Maddox passed for 2,836 yards, with 20 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 2002, and the following offseason Stewart was released.

By that time, Batch had re-established some roots in his hometown, had become active in helping the youth in the community and liked the feeling that came from winning and playing in the playoffs. And so he stayed.

And stayed. And along the way he grew deeper roots and became a pillar of the community, but he also produced when called upon to play.

In 2005, Batch was 2-0 as a starter for an injured Ben Roethlisberger – Maddox was 0-2 – during a regular season in which the Steelers' 11-5 record qualified them as the final playoff team in the AFC. From there, they went on to win Super Bowl XL.

In 2006, Batch was needed to start the opener when Roethlisberger was recovering from an appendectomy, and he threw three touchdown passes in a win over Miami; later in that season he came on when Roethlisberger sustained a concussion in Atlanta and passed for 195 yards and two touchdowns to forge a tie in what became an overtime loss to the Falcons.

And as the years went on, Batch proved to be capable of filling the vital role of veteran backup quarterback for the Steelers, and the combination of winning Super Bowls and impacting the lives of thousands of youngsters in his hometown extinguished any remaining hint of wanderlust.

"I thought 2002 would be my one and only year here, and here we are again going into my ninth season here, which is unbelievable," said Batch. "If you would have told me back then that I would be here this long, I would have told you that you were crazy. But here it is, and I'm excited. I have been excited every day."

What Batch gives the Steelers today is a reliable, veteran presence at the critical quarterback position, and while there can be no argument that his body cannot do what it once could, it's also true his smarts and experience can make up for a lot of it.

There have been occasions in the past few years where Batch has been an unrestricted free agent, but during each of those times the team never really tried to replace him, and he never really was looking to leave.

"It's great to stay here. Hopefully, I didn't have a reason to leave," said Batch. "I wanted to be here, they know I wanted to be here. Over the course of the past eight years it's been great. I love playing for this organization.

"For me, I always wanted to play for this organization, and to have the opportunity to embrace it has been great."

Where Batch will fit on the depth chart in 2010 will be determined by what happens in Latrobe this summer. He will be 36 on Dec. 5, and he has been injured in each of the last two seasons. Dennis Dixon opened the 2009 season as the No. 3 quarterback, but he was impressive in his only NFL start – in Baltimore when Roethlisberger was recovering from a concussion and Batch was out with a broken wrist.

What Dixon can become and what Batch has left will be played out during training camp, but Charlie Batch is the kind of guy who will compete and then contribute in whatever way is asked of him, all while being a teammate in the locker room and a positive force in the community.

"There's going to be a fire lit under everybody," said Batch when asked about when he expects from the team in 2010. "Going through a Super Bowl season and then coming back and missing the playoffs, guys weren't happy sitting at home watching and knowing we had an opportunity. I think when you add that to the element, it's going to make guys hungrier and more motivated to get back to what we know and have become accustomed to as far as making a championship run."

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