By Teresa Varley
Ben Roethlisberger celebrated his 26th birthday on Sunday, and on Monday he got the perfect gift – a new eight-year contract that ensures he'll spend the prime of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. As Dan Rooney said, "He's a Steeler, and he'll always be a Steeler."
"This is a great birthday present to know that I am going to be the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers for a long time," said Roethlisberger during a Monday morning press conference at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex.
Roethlisberger was entering the last two years of his original contract, and getting him signed to an extension was something both sides wanted to get accomplished this offseason, and as early on in the offseason as possible.
He came to the Steelers as the 11th overall pick of the 2004 NFL Draft, and as a rookie Roethlisberger set an NFL record by going 13-0 as a starter; the following season he cemented his status among the league's top quarterbacks by becoming the youngest to lead his team to a win in the Super Bowl. In 2007, Roethlisberger was voted to his first Pro Bowl as part of an AFC squad that also included New England's Tom Brady and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning.
This contract places Roethlisberger in the same position as both Manning and Brady, both in terms of salary and in terms of commitment to the team that originally drafted him.
"I told them that I didn't want to go anywhere the day I walked in, and that stays true," said Roethlisberger. "I'm glad that I have the opportunity to be here a little bit longer and hopefully finish my career, get another one of these (contract extensions) to finish my career in the black and gold. I told them I look good in the black and gold and nothing else.
"I wanted to be like the Dan Marino, John Elway, the guys who play with one team their entire career. That's been the goal, and we got one step closer to being able to do that."
The only other Steelers quarterback to win a championship was Terry Bradshaw, who won four, and he also spent his entire career with one team. Joe Montana won four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, but he finished his career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The contract negotiations went smoothly, according to all of the parties involved, and it was Roethlisberger's desire to get something done so he could remain with the Steelers that was the driving force.
"It was easy, because of Ben and how he handled the situation," said Dan Rooney. "Don't let them act like they did something (difficult). We are very pleased with this and what the future will be for us."
And not having the negotiations drag into the latter portions of the offseason was is something that pleased the quarterback.
"We said that we wanted to get this done quickly and quietly, and I feel like they did," said Roethlisberger. "I know a lot of you guys were surprised until this morning. So I am glad we got it done in a timely manner. Now we can put it all behind us and focus on putting a bunch more (Lombardi) trophies in that room next to us.
"Like Coach (Mike) Tomlin and I said, we can put the contract behind us now and focus strictly on football and getting more rings and more championships for this organization."
Roethlisberger is coming off the best season of his career from a statistical standpoint. He completed 264 passes for 3,154 yards and set team records with 32 touchdown passes and a passer rating of 104.1. He also led the Steelers into the postseason for the third time in his four-year career.
With the new contract will come even higher expectations for Roethlisberger, and he said he is ready for that challenge.
"In this town there is always pressure to play well," said Roethlisberger. "We know that. Especially at the quarterback position there is always going to be the extra pressure to play well. I'm sure that this (contract) just adds more (pressure) and adds fuel to the fire to do that much better."
But he wouldn't have it any other way.
"This is about being a Pittsburgh Steeler for as long as I can be," said Roethlisberger. "I don't want to go anywhere else. I love Pittsburgh, I love the fans. This is the best organization and the best fans in all of sports. I didn't want to go anywhere, so I am glad that we got it done and I can stay here."