It was on April 24, 2004:
“I was in New York. I had my mom and dad with me, my sister was there and my agent. My college coach at the time and his wife were there. Everyone kind of had their speculations of ‘what number’ and what team. The teams we thought were going to take me didn’t, but it ended up working out perfectly for me.” — Ben, from the video, “Recalling Draft Day”.
Ben arrives at Madison Square Garden that Saturday morning with plenty of supporters in his corner – his family, his agents Leigh Steinberg and Ryan Tollner, and his college coach, Terry Hoeppner and his wife Jane.
At 11:20PM: Ben and four others – Eli Manning, Roy Williams, Robert Gallery, and Kellen Winslow Jr. – are introduced to the crowd.
Green Room waiting –
• 12:25PM: NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announces that the San Diego Chargers have selected Eli Manning with the No. 1 pick. Eli emerges from stage right and is greeted by unwelcoming chants by the Chargers fans in attendance.
• 12:58PM: NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announces that the New York Giants have selected NC State quarterback Philip Rivers with the No. 4 pick. Soon thereafter the trade with the Chargers is announced – Eli Manning is headed to New York, Philip Rivers to San Diego. Both fan bases seem pleased with the outcome….as Ben waits for his turn.
• 1:57PM: Pittsburgh is on the clock. “We see Ben Roethlisberger on the phone,” ESPN announces for the television audience. Sure enough, it’s Steelers coach Bill Cowher calling to tell Ben the Steelers are going to select him with the No. 11 pick.
• 2:00PM: NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announces that Ben is indeed headed for Pittsburgh. Ben arrives on stage and dons a Steelers ballcap and holds up a Steelers jersey.
• 2:01PM: The Steelers fans in the crowd begin to chant, “Ben, Ben, Ben….”
• 2:02PM: Just off stage, Ben does a press conference for television reporters and then disappears from the public room to do a few interviews with the Pittsburgh media.
• 2:43PM: Ben emerges from the players’ party room where a press conference with print media is set up. An ESPN media representative announces, “Call from Steelers owner Mr. Rooney…” Ben takes the phone and his first words, “Yes sir, Mr. Rooney…”.
• 2:48PM: After another media conference and a round of short one-on-one interviews that last until close to 3:30 p.m., Ben heads for the door – Steelers jersey still slung over his left shoulder.
“We felt if Ben would drop to No. 11, we’re not up here every year in the draft, and a quality player like that is hard to pass up. He’s right there with Eli and Philip. The thing that separates him is experience. Ben only played one year in high school and three in college…It’s a good situation we have with the veterans in front of him, and not feel the pressure of having to turn the team around immediately.” — Former Steelers Coach Bill Cowher, on selecting Ben over a running back, April 24, 2004.
From a Draft Day report that appeared on the Sports Illustrated website later that evening:
If anybody had the right to feel exasperated watching the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers saga unfold Saturday, it was Ben Roethlisberger.
Even after his name finally was called by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 11th overall selection, Roethlisberger had to endure a news conference in which half of the questions were about Manning’s power play to stay out of San Diego.
The other half were thinly veiled insults at the quality of play Roethlisberger faced in the Mid-American Conference, as if he should apologize for having attended Miami of Ohio instead of the other Miami — the one that had six players drafted among the top 21 picks of this draft.
It’s hard to argue with Roethlisberger’s track record at Miami, where he led the school to a MAC championship and its first bowl victory in 28 years, a 49-28 win over Louisville in the 2003 GMAC Bowl. As a three-year starter, he passed for 10,829 yards and 84 touchdowns.
“The attention has been on Eli all week and that’s fine with me,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m gonna let [Manning and Rivers] get all the attention they want right now. When I start playing, that’s when I’m going to be getting the attention.”
(The link to this NFL Draft report is no longer available.)
“Judging by body language, I think he is really happy, They have great receivers and most important, they have a great program. I think it worked out well.” — Ken Roethlisberger on his son’s Draft Day, from the interview below.
From Kevin Chlum, at “The Miami Student”:
There are few NFL teams hated in Oxford, Ohio, more than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Much to the dismay of many Miamians, former RedHawk quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was selected by the Steelers as the 11th pick in the 2004 NFL draft Saturday.
Roethlisberger became the highest drafted player in Miami history.
“The Steelers are a real good fit [for Ben],” Miami coach Terry Hoeppner said. “They are probably the best team of the three quarterbacks who went early. For your ego, you want to go as high as possible, but the more important thing for the future is the right organization.”
Roethlisberger was one of few draftees invited to Madison Square Garden for the draft and many experts predicted him to be selected within the top five picks. But as the draft unfolded, it became clear Roethlisberger would fall.
Ken Roethlisberger was relieved to have the anticipation over. “You better believe that I was relieved,” Ken said. “We had fun while in New York, we went to a Yankees game and a Knicks game, but [Saturday] morning was kind of tense.”
(Mr. Chlum’s article is no longer available online.)
“The Steelers also are eagerly pursuing Rivers in the final days before the draft, envisioning him as the eventual replacement for Tommy Maddox and a fallback candidate this year, in the event of an emergency. Rivers, who already has earned his degree in business and holds the NCAA record with 51 career starts, is considered a quick study and a better bet to succeed in his rookie season than Miami (Ohio)’s Ben Roethlisberger, who is leaving school with a year of collegiate eligibility remaining.” — Jerry DiPaola, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the night before the draft – April 23, 2004.
You can take a look back at Ben’s NFL Combine here, and his Pro Day workout here.
(The above timeline was made from a combination of notes, television coverage, and highlights from Draft articles that are no longer available online)
And the day after….
“If one of those backs would have slid, we were not going to hesitate to grab him. It’s just like the quarterback position. We felt good about that, but Roethlisberger slid and we got him, and we bettered our football team.” — Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, on selecting a quarterback over a running back – from an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 26, 2004.
From Don Banks’ column, “Draft Day winners & losers” on SI.com:
Winners -2, the Steelers were lucky enough to sit tight at No. 11 and still get the quarterback of the future that they so desperately craved. True, the Steelers would have rather had Rivers than Roethlisberger, believing the N.C. State star is more ready to play right away, but the stars still aligned in a nice way for Pittsburgh. Once upon a time, a team would draft a franchise quarterback prospect even if it had a quality starter on the roster. But not in the cap era, it’s too costly. So with the teams in the No. 5 through 10 slots all set at quarterback, the Steelers benefited from Roethlisberger’s tumble.
(Mr. Banks’ column is no longer available online.)
“We’re not looking to rebuild this year. We’re looking to win this division and get into the playoffs and win a championship.” — Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert, from an interview in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 26, 2004.
Now not everyone back then was on the Big Ben Welcome Wagon….
From Mike Prisuta’s column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the day after the Draft:
In the days leading up to Saturday and in the minutes immediately following the No. 11 overall selection, Bill Cowher kept insisting the Steelers didn’t expect to be drafting this high very often.
But in the wake of taking Ben Roethlisberger in the first round, you have to wonder if picking in the vicinity of the top 10 isn’t about to become habit forming.
Same time next year, fellas?
Coming off a six-win season and having missed the playoffs in four of the last six years, the Steelers are in a rebuilding mode rather than a retooling one.
Roethlisberger, from Miami (Ohio) and second-round pick Ricardo Colclough, from Tusculum College, are upside guys who won’t have much of an immediate impact provided they make any at all as rookies.
You’d expect more from No. 11 overall.
Then again, the Steelers should have expected more than they got from Troy Polamalu at No. 16 overall a season ago.
Recent history suggests Roethlisberger is as likely to turn into the next Tim Couch as he is the next Bledsoe, but the Steelers decided to swing for the fences, anyway, rather than to continue simply moving the runners.
(Mr. Prisuta’s column is no longer available online.)
“I’m not Tommy Maddox; can’t be Tommy Maddox. I’m just going to do the best I can.” — Ben, to reporters after his first NFL game against the Baltimore Ravens, September 19, 2004.