For Roethlisberger, life can begin at age 30
Terry Bradshaw's four best passing years, John Elway's six best passer ratings and all four of Warren Moon's 4,000-plus passing seasons came after they turned 30.
Roger Staubach made five of his six Pro Bowls after 30, and Steve Young helped San Francisco to 10 or more wins five times after he surpassed 30.
And all have the same thing in common — they are all Hall of Fame quarterbacks that took their game to a different level once they turned 30.
“The one who you look at with that is Elway,” said Ben Roethlisberger, who idolized Elway growing up. “Elway won two in his late 30s. He is the one who set the standard.”
Roethlisberger is hoping to be the next one in a line of quarterbacks who transformed from a good everyday quarterback to a Hall-of-Fame caliber quarterback once they turned 30.
Roethlisberger turned 30 on March 2, and is teetering on what might or might not be a Hall of Fame-caliber career.
“Sure, it is important to him, but not as important as winning,” quarterback coach Randy Fichtner said. “What I know about Ben is that he never hunts for individual recognition. Now, we all have it. The most competitive players in the world are on these fields, but that doesn't drive them and it doesn't drive Ben.”
Roethlisberger is in a unique situation when it comes to quarterbacks hitting 30 because he has already accomplished so much in his 20s.
Roethlisberger's stats before 30 are quite remarkable: 24 fourth-quarter comebacks, 49 100-plus passing rating games, 20 three-touchdown games, 21 300-yard games, 113 starts, 26,000 yards, 165 touchdowns, four division titles, three AFC championships and two world titles to go along with 90-37 career record including 10-4 in the playoffs.
He was also the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl and also the youngest to ever win two.
History suggests that a third Super Bowl title would mean automatic qualifications for the Hall of Fame.
Only three quarterbacks have ever won two Super Bowls and every quarterback who ever won three (Aikman, Montana, Bradshaw) are in the Hall of Fame (Tom Brady pending).
And it's by no surprise that the average age of starting quarterback in the Super Bowl over the past 46 years is exactly 30, or as Byron Leftwich said, “the age cerebral capacity matches physical capacity.”
“I've talked to people who got older playing this game, and you ask them what happened and they will tell you that their mind is still there, but you can't physically do it anymore,” Leftwich said. “In the early 30s, your body is still OK and your mind is at a point where you are completely comfortable.”
But Roethlisberger can be classified differently because of how much success he had early in his career.
“It is rare and hard to do it early in your career,” Fichtner said. “I think when they turn 30, they start to appreciate how to rest, how to take care of themselves, how to eat and how to prepare. When they are young, they don't do that.”
There have been exceptions to the Rule of 30. Aikman and Joe Namath waned off when they hit 30, but a lot of that had to do with injuries.
Roethlisberger might not have injuries as an obstacle, but does have issues to overcome moving on his career.
The Steelers hired Todd Haley as offensive coordinator in February and he implemented an entire different scheme that Roethlisberger's had known from his rookie year. Even though Roethlisberger had Ken Whisenhunt and Bruce Arians as offensive coordinators before, those two schemes were similar.
Haley's is totally different and could potentially set back Roethlisberger's growth.
“I've always believed it's the third or fourth year in the same system, if you have a guy that has a really good system,” former NFL coach Jon Gruden said.
Roethlisberger had, by far, his best passing season in 2009 – three years after Arians took over as offensive coordinator.
That's one of the reasons why Roethlisberger was hesitant with the change of coordinators.
“I felt like I was coming into the prime of my career and starting all over with an offense,” Roethlisberger said. “It is a comfort level. You get comfortable with the guys around you and gel with the offense.”
Haley's offense is capable of producing big numbers for the quarterback that could ultimately propel Roethlisberger to the next level.
During his stint as coordinator in Arizona, Haley called an offense that turned quarterback Kurt Warner into a passing machine.
Warner threw for 57 touchdowns in 25 starts under Haley at Arizona when he was 36 and then 37 years old.
“A lot more is going to be put on Ben's shoulders,” Leftwich said. “He has already been asked to do a lot, but with the offense being young, he is going to have to be that person, he is going to have to take it on.”
Fichtner believes that Roethlisberger has the mental wits to push himself to another level. It's just going to be a matter of getting comfortable with the offense.
“More important than anything else is that it is an above-the-neck game,” Fichtner said. “You have to be able to play it there and the most critical position on the field.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1978.