Starkey: Batch (probably) hits end of line
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So long, Charlie Batch.
Not that you'll be far away if the Steelers have an emergency. As you put it Sunday morning, “I'll be right up the street. If they call, I'll be there.”
For now, though, it looks like the end of the line. Looks like you've thrown your final pass, which, for the record, was a 10-yard completion to Mike Wallace on an impossibly dramatic drive in Baltimore.
Publicly, you expressed confidence the Steelers would bring you back. It would have been your 12th go-round since the man who drafted you in Detroit — Kevin Colbert — brought you here. But that was before they signed Bruce Gradkowski and drafted Landry Jones.
Your first thought when that happened?
“If this is it, and I don't put that Steeler uniform on again, I can say it's been an amazing 11 years.”
It's been a fairy tale, actually, Charlie: Homestead kid returns, helps team win two Super Bowls — particularly Super Bowl XL, when you won two big November games — and establishes a powerful off-field legacy through the Best of The Batch Foundation.
People should know that you were neither surprised nor embittered by the moves, because you have so much respect for how Colbert and the Rooneys go about their business.
This is how you phrased it: “I had a feeling this was coming. I knew they wanted to get younger.”
Nobody can dispute this, Charlie: You authored one mighty compelling final chapter. That win at Baltimore, three days before your 38th birthday, likely goes down as your final start.
When I reflect on your 11 years and see one image, it's you and Ben embracing for what seemed like 10 minutes after the winning kick. You were coming off a nightmarish performance in Cleveland. People said you couldn't play anymore.
So how was that for a fantastic finish?
“When I looked at it realistically, I said, ‘This may be my last game ever starting — and it couldn't be any tougher.' I mean, it was on the road, in front of 71,000 people against a team that hadn't lost at home in 15 games.
“To go into that situation, and then you tell me we're going to get the ball at our 15 with 6:14 left, go 51 yards, kick the winning field goal with no time left and silence those 71,000 people?
“Wow. What better feeling could you have?”
Well, there's one. As you explain it, Charlie, it came three days before the Super Bowl, at the NFL Players Association's state-of-the-union news conference in New Orleans. That's when you received the Byron “Whizzer” White Award for “benefiting society through outstanding devotion to philanthropic efforts.”
The union says it's the highest honor it bestows. Your teammates nominated you, and the Players Association chose you from among five finalists.
You're still amazed.
“Over 1,900 NFL players, and here it is this kid from Homestead is Man of the Year in the Players Association? When my name was announced, I was in shock.”
It was yet another validation of the impact your foundation (batchfoundation.org) has in the community. You'll have 365 kids in your basketball league again, and May 13 you'll take 100 kids on your annual trek to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
What did you say happened at the Hall last year? The kids spotted then-Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur and serenaded him with a “Here We Go, Steelers!” chant?
“Yes, and they talked about it the whole way home.”
If this is the end, Charlie, let me tell you: You've been a testament to teamwork and the art of preparation. You started nine games in 11 years, yet you almost always gave your team a great chance to win. Your influence on Roethlisberger was immeasurable.
Speaking of which, how will the big personalities of Ben and Todd Haley mesh in that quarterbacks room now that their buffer is gone?
You're laughing, Charlie.
“I can't tell you. I don't know.”
That's a cryptic answer.
“Four months have gone by. Things can change. I guess we'll find out in September. You don't see how things play out behind the scenes. The only thing you can go by is what the team wants you to believe. Will you see what you saw in September, when they said everything's OK? Or will you see what you saw in December in Dallas, where the frustration boiled over?”
Hmmm. Well, we know we'll see plenty of you, Charlie, doing what you do best: helping young people. And if the Steelers need you, they know where to look.
Right up the street.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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