Steelers Legend Ben Roethlisberger Reflects on Potential Comeback Opportunity

Ben Roethlisberger

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers before the AFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs on January 16, 2022.

On Tuesday, former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appeared on 105.9 The X in Pittsburgh, and not surprisingly, Mark Madden broached the subject of un-retiring.

“You never retired, then un-retired, then retired. You know the drill. A lot of quarterbacks have done it…. How tempting was it for you?” asked Madden, referring to the opportunity to potentially continue his playing career in 2022.

The 49ers ‘Called to Gauge My Interest’

“I was really comfortable with my decision,” began Roethlisberger, referring to how he retired following the conclusion of the 2021 season. “Last year, there were some truths to the Niners thing, just in the sense that they were reaching out, just to gauge my interest. And so I had discussions … ” continued Roethlisberger.

Recall that the Super Bowl contending 49ers lost Trey Lance and Jimmy Garopollo to season-ending injuries in 2022, forcing San Francisco to turn to rookie 7th-round pick Brock Purdy as the team’s starting quarterback. So it’s no surprise that the Niners reached out to the recently-retired Steelers quarterback, a two-time Super Bowl winner not far removed from his last NFL game.

“I had conversations with my agent, my wife, my family, prayed a lot about it, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued, like, ‘Oh man, I could still do it.’ You know, prove to people that I could still play. But at the end of the day, I just can’t see myself in anything other than black & gold. Even though they had a great chance to win the Super Bowl, it would have been hard for me to try to win a Super Bowl anywhere else but here,” he concluded, referring to Pittsburgh. “At the end of the day, it was the smallest little bleep in my heart to go play again.”

Speaking of the so-called “Niners thing,” it’s not clear whether the 49ers were interested in having Roethlisberger start instead of Purdy, or whether San Francisco wanted him as insurance, in case Purdy got injured.

As it turns out, Purdy played shockingly well for a rookie 7th-round pick, having been selected No. 262 overall out of Iowa State. In fact, he went 5-0 as a starter (regular season) and completed 67.1% of his passes with 13 touchdown passes and four interceptions, good for a 107.4 passer rating. He helped the 49ers advance to the NFC Championship game, before he himself was injured and San Francisco faltered in a 31-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Steelers Were ‘Ready to Move On’ From Ben Roethlisberger After 2021?

As for Roethlisberger, it’s hard to ignore how his play declined in his last few years in the league. Yet he may have preferred to continue playing for at least one more season.

In May 2022, longtime Steelers insider Gerry Dulac said it’s “safe to assume” that there was “bad blood” between Roethlisberger and the team over how his career ended. Two months later, told Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that then-Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was “ready to move on” from him after the 2021 season. Meanwhile, former Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster believes that Roethlisberger may have chafed at having to take a pay cut to come back for one final season in 2022.

All that said, Roethlisberger finished his Pro Football Hall of Fame-worthy career with a record of 165-81-1 and a passer rating of 93.5, as per Pro Football Reference. After his very last game — a postseason loss to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs — he said his Steelers career has “truly been a blessing.”