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Ben Roethlisberger was tired and feeling a little beat up late Sunday after withstanding the barrage of punishment he knew he’d receive from the Baltimore Ravens because, well, they’re the Baltimore Ravens.
He was also visibly emotionally drained because, like many of the games Roethlisberger has played in for 18 years, this one was decided by one play at the end. And worst of all for the Steelers quarterback, all he could do on that final play was watch and pray from his team’s sideline.
But when it was finally over and Roethlisberger had a moment to recover, the worn out 39-year-old wasn’t in any mood to give an inch on the pertinent question of the day that, really, everyone knows the answer to anyway:
Is it true Ben Roethlisberger is retiring after this season and has been telling people that in recent weeks as the 2021 season winds to its inevitable finish?
“I haven’t told everybody that,” Roethlisberger told a room full of reporters after the Steelers beat Baltimore 20-19. “Honestly, we just got done with this game. I’m exhausted. We played a couple of hours, it feels like, and so that’s my focus.”
And then Roethlisberger went into the business mode he’s used in recent years as both his experience and age made his future more of an issue.
“My focus is on Minnesota and what we have to do to get ready,” Roethlisberger said of the Thursday meeting the Steelers have with the Vikings. “I’ll address that other stuff after the season. I’ve always been a one-game-at-a-time, one-season-at-a-time person. I’m going to stay that way.”
So, not a confirmation to an ESPN report about Roethlisberger talking about leaving. But not a denial either.
But ironic because the player most responsible for the Steelers’ success the past two decades, the man at center stage of all that has been good and, infrequently, some that has been bad for the franchise, doesn’t want to be the center of attention now.
He doesn’t want to be a distraction.
Not during the season.
Now is not the right time to make his teammates and coaches have to manage the issue that would surely overshadow this win, or even the remainder of the season.
After the season, sure. But not now.
“There’s nothing to manage,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “Ben doesn’t allow it to become an issue. Ben has been pretty solid in terms of his expressions that he’s singularly focused on what it is that we’re doing now.
“He’ll deal with those things on the other side of this journey, and I’m with him on it. And so it is not a distraction. I thought it was funny that it was seemingly a story this weekend, to be quite honest with you.”
It’s a story because ESPN uncovered an interesting detail.
But the idea of Roethlisberger expecting to retire after this season at age 40 is not new. It’s been out there since earlier this year when he took a pay cut and accepted a contract that voids after this season.
And if you saw his reaction to this game, it’s clear Roethlisberger remains on that course, whether he admits it or not.
You can see how emotional he seemed after the Ravens missed a 2-point conversion in the final seconds that sealed the Pittsburgh victory. You could see it in his interactions with both teammates and players on the Ravens.
It was as though Roethlisberger knew he’s not going to be in many more of these.
And you could hear it in how he spoke of this rivalry that has helped define some of Roethlisberger’s career.
“You should always savor moments like this,” Roethlisberger said. “And I try to reiterate that to guys, whether you’re in your first year or your fifth year or your 20th year. You should always appreciate this moment because God has blessed me in an amazing way that I can throw a football like not many people in the world can. And guys can run and catch and do things that not many people in the world can.
“We should always count our blessings that we’re able to do this. And so you never know when it’s going to be taken from you, as we’ve unfortunately have seen. And so I just think we all should take advantage of these opportunities — win, lose or draw — to be appreciative of the opportunities we get out here to play football.”
Spoken like a man who knows deep down that his opportunities are drawing to a close.
The Steelers have five more games. Their season finale will be special, regardless of its playoff implications, because it will be a rematch against the Ravens in Baltimore.
That will be important to Roethlisberger, no matter what, but perhaps not as important as Sunday because that was likely the last time he played against the Ravens at home.
“I’ve enjoyed this game,” he said. “This game specifically and winning at home in front of our fans. It’s awesome.”
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