Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not hide his retirement intentions as his 18th season with the Pittsburgh Steelers wound down. He made it official Thursday by announcing that he was walking away from the NFL, leaving behind a complicated legacy that includes Hall of Fame-worthy on-field accomplishments and troubling off-field issues.
Roethlisberger, who turns 40 in March, won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and amassed passing numbers that rank him among the sport’s all-time best.
“The journey has been exhilarating, defined by relationships and fueled by a spirit of competition,” Roethlisberger said in a video, posted Thursday to social media, in which he was surrounded by his family. “Yet the time has come to clean out my locker, hang up my cleats and continue to be all I can be to my wife and children. I retire from football a truly grateful man.”
Roethlisberger acknowledged late in the season that retirement was looming. He said in training camp that he had contemplated it last offseason but decided to return, vowing to put all that he had into this season whether it was his final NFL go-round or not.
He was given a warm send-off by Pittsburgh fans in his final home game at Heinz Field after confirming that was probably his final appearance there. He and the Steelers had an inconsistent season but managed to reach the AFC playoffs, with help from a field goal by the Las Vegas Raiders on the final snap of overtime in the last game of the regular season. The Steelers were eliminated with a lopsided opening-round playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I don’t know how to put into words what the game of football has meant to me and what a blessing it has been,” Roethlisberger said. “While I know with confidence I have given my all to the game, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all it has given me.”
Roethlisberger spent his entire career with the Steelers after being drafted by them with the 11th pick in 2004. It was a memorably great draft class for quarterbacks. Roethlisberger now joins Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, his 2004 draft-mates, in retirement.
Roethlisberger ranks fifth on the NFL’s list of career passing yards leaders behind only Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. He is fifth in completions and eighth in touchdown passes. Roethlisberger’s candidacy for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, will be considered in five years.
“You represent everything a Pittsburgh Steeler is,” Bill Cowher, the Steelers’ Hall of Fame former coach who is now an NFL analyst for CBS, said as he addressed Roethlisberger in a video posted online Thursday by the team. “You played with great determination and a degree of toughness. I congratulate you on a job well done. And without a doubt, in five years I will see you in Canton.”
In another video the team posted compiling well-wishes from Roethlisberger’s former teammates, former Steelers linebacker James Harrison said: “Congratulations on a hell of a career, man. I wish you the best in the future and look forward to seeing you going into the Hall, baby.”
Roethlisberger became the Steelers’ starter early in his rookie season in 2004, in part because of an injury to Tommy Maddox. He never relinquished the starting job, playing through injuries and establishing himself as one of the league’s must durable quarterbacks.
“It’s amazing to see what you’ve been able to accomplish over the last 18 years,” Maddox said in the Steelers’ video. “I’m just so thankful that I was able to be there at the beginning. I thought I was old then. And now we’re both old.”
Roethlisberger was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year and was selected to six Pro Bowls. He and the Steelers won two Super Bowls in his first five years, with triumphs to close the 2005 and 2008 seasons. They returned in the 2010 season but lost to the Green Bay Packers. They were not able to get back during Roethlisberger’s tenure.
Roethlisberger had several off-field incidents early in his career. In June 2006, he suffered a broken jaw and other injuries in a motorcycle crash in Pittsburgh in which he was not wearing a helmet.
In 2009, a hotel employee in Lake Tahoe filed a lawsuit against Roethlisberger alleging he had sexually assaulted her in 2008. The two sides reached a settlement. In 2010, a 20-year-old college student accused Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her in a Georgia bar. No criminal charges were filed. Authorities investigated but a prosecutor said there was no “viable” criminal case, based on the evidence gathered, and that his office did not “prosecute morals.”
The NFL suspended Roethlisberger for the first six games of the 2010 season under its personal conduct policy. Commissioner Roger Goodell later reduced the suspension to four games. The case subsequently was cited as an example of the authority of the NFL and the commissioner to impose discipline under the conduct policy without criminal charges.
Roethlisberger was married in 2011, and he and his wife, Ashley, have three children. They flanked Roethlisberger in Thursday’s retirement video; they had met him on the field in an emotional scene following his final home game. There were no other significant off-field issues as his career progressed, and Roethlisberger spoke regularly about his religious faith and the role that it played in his life and in football matters.
“Putting that jersey on every Sunday with my brothers will always be one of the greatest joys of my life,” Roethlisberger said. “To Steeler Nation, the best fans in all of sport, thank you for accepting and supporting me as your quarterback over the years. Football has been a gift, and I thank God for allowing me to play it, surrounding me with great people and protecting me through to the end, with love and honor.”