The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering the 2021 NFL postseason in a position that might seem familiar for some.
In the final season of a franchise icon’s career, the Steelers enter the playoffs as a low-seeded Wild Card, with a path to the Super Bowl that will include road games at the best the conference has to offer.
That happened in 2005, when the Steelers’ made good on a promise to get Jerome Bettis to the Super Bowl in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan with road wins at Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver, before Bettis retired on stage as a champion at the end of Super Bowl XL.
It was a fairytale ending for Bettis’ career, and now a player that helped deliver that championship is at the end of his own road. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the only player from the Super Bowl XL championship team still with the Steelers, and now he’s in what he has said is likely his last ride through the playoffs.
Standing in Roethlisberger’s way of repeating Bettis’ fantastic finish to his career is a daunting gauntlet of AFC teams that included Kansas City on Sunday, and potential trips to No. 1 Tennessee and No. 3 Buffalo.
But while Roethlisberger acknowledges the similarities, he said it’s a different feeling for him this year than it was in 2005.
“That was so long ago,” he said. “A lot of these guys were in what, middle school or elementary school? … I think that team was a really good football team. We’re not as good of a football team as we were then, but anything can happen.”
The Steelers have warts, as Mike Tomlin said after their Week 18 win at Baltimore to keep them in playoff contention. They’re also an overwhelmingly young team, something that wasn’t necessarily the case in 2005. Roethlisberger was one of the few youngsters that helped push the Steelers over the hump in the Bettis’ final year.
“I wanted to go win it for Jerome because you know what he meant,” he said. “I think I understood wanting to win it for him, but I only had two years with Jerome. I didn’t have the five, six, seven, 10-year relationship with him that some of those guys did.”
Now, there is just one Roethlisberger, an outlier on an overly young team, and a group of players that will hope to defy the odds and give him the same type of finish to his career. But that’s not a comparison that Roethlisberger is willing to make just yet as the team enters the phase of his career where every game could be his last.
“That was a pretty good football team,” Roethlisberger said. “We had some Hall of Famers on it. Not that we don’t have some really good football players here, but we have a long way to go to compare ourselves to that team.”