PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger teased about his future throughout 2017. Would he retire, with his 36th birthday looming in March and two Super Bowl victories (and one loss) to his name, after this postseason?
It would have been understandable if, in the aftermath of the crushing, 45-42 divisional-round playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, he had spoken pessimistically about the rest of his NFL career. But Roethlisberger was having none of it.
“I definitely have a desire to play football,” Roethlisberger said. “I love this game. I love these guys. Like I said, it’s tough. It stings. You hate to lose it. You hate to lose at home. I feel bad because I feel like I let the fans down, my teammates down . . . I know there will be some that say, ‘We had a great season. Thanks for the ride.’ But a lot of them are disappointed like we are. It wasn’t enough. And I feel bad for that.
“I feel like I let a lot of people down,” he said. “And I’ll take it all on myself. That’s fine. I have no problem with that . . . I don’t know about contracts and who’s coming back. But I know the guys up front are. That makes it good for me. So I look forward to next year with those guys.”
Roethlisberger, who completed 37 of 58 passes for 469 yards and five touchdowns with one interception Sunday, began musing about retirement two years ago, talking about the links between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He spoke during the 2017 offseason about hanging it up, but that was only talk. During the fall, he questioned his ability after a five-interception loss to the Jaguars, wondering whether he just “doesn’t have it anymore.”
Late in the 2015 season, Roethlisberger took himself out of a game to be evaluated.
“I was on the sideline thinking, ‘Do I want to go back into this game?’ I was thinking of my family, my lifestyle when I get done with football, with all these injuries . . . The brain is nothing to mess with,” he said in a radio interview in December of that year. “I was literally on the sideline, probably for the first time maybe in my life, thinking about my family and not going back into the game because I did not feel quite right. It was definitely a moment; that’s why I was honest with the trainers and doctors and wanted to tell them exactly what I was going through.
“I feel like I made the right [decision]. People know me: I’ll play through any injury. I’ve played through a lot of injuries. But the brain is not an injury that you want to play with and play through. I think more people need to understand that. We play football for such a short period of time in our lives. When you’re done, you want to be a father and a husband and be the best I can be. If I have these brain injuries, it’s not worth it.”
Cindy Boren reported from Washington.
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