PITTSBURGH — An hour and a half earlier than the Steelers’ penultimate common-season dwelling sport on Dec. 19, Ryan Smith held a glass bottle of Redd’s Angry Ale in a parking zone outdoors Heinz Field. With yellow, black and grey camouflage pants, a white No. 7 Ben Roethlisberger jersey and a gold beanie with “Big 7 Ben” stitched throughout the crown, Smith blended into the gang of pregame revelers.
A schoolteacher in Fremont, Ohio, Smith, who’s a couple of years older than Roethlisberger, nonetheless remembers seeing the quarterback play at close by Findlay (Ohio) High School. As a senior, Roethlisberger torched Smith’s alma mater for seven touchdowns.
A lifelong Steelers fan, Smith purchased the primary of 4 Roethlisberger jerseys the week in 2004 when his highschool’s former nemesis was drafted by his favourite NFL crew.
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“Wasn’t a big fan then,” Smith mentioned. “But as soon as he went black and gold, 11th pick, I became, obviously, a Big Ben fan.
“I give him props every week. No matter who disses him, people talk crap about him in my hometown, but I stick up for him. To me, he still does a good job. He can’t run, but he can sure throw. That’s all we need. Block for him and he’ll get the pass off. That’s all that matters.”
Throughout what’s virtually assured to be Roethlisberger’s final season, the devoted Steelers devoted have made pilgrimages to see Roethlisberger play in individual one final time.
In latest weeks, these journeys have develop into extra pressing, the importance of the second not misplaced on those that secured tickets to his final video games.
Monday evening, greater than 63,000 fans turned out at Heinz Field to bid Roethlisberger farewell. The decrease bowl was rimmed with indicators cheering the 2-time Super Bowl winner, many adorned with lower-and-paste highlights of his 18-12 months profession. The fans chanted his identify all through the sport, thanking him because the clock ticked down in the fourth quarter. The frenzied crowd prompted a handful of Cleveland Browns penalties, and practically affected Roethlisberger, too.
“It’s one of those ones where you’re like, ‘OK, I’m appreciative of it, try and be quiet,’” the quarterback mentioned with a smile after the 26-14 win. “‘We’re trying to call some plays.’ But like I said, it means a lot. This place, Heinz Field, is so special to me. You know, just like this city is.”
Tailgating in entrance of a small fireplace along with his household, Garrett Piekarski, 29, mentioned he known as dibs on his household’s season tickets for the final dwelling sport particularly to see Roethlisberger off — and to speak trash to his associates who’re Browns fans.
“Obviously, when you hear something in the news like Ben, it might be his last game, it might not be, you’ve got to show up for it,” Piekarski mentioned. “Most franchises, they go through a bunch of quarterbacks. He’s been the quarterback for almost my entire life. So you’ve got to cherish the good times and the bad times he’s had with us, especially in a game like this, too, against a division rival. You can’t miss it for the world.”
While Roethlisberger’s greatest celebration got here at Heinz Field, some Steelers fans are making certain he has some pleasant faces for his final farewell in Baltimore on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
Mitchell Zook of Cumberland, Maryland, purchased tickets Tuesday to see Roethlisberger one final time, and he plans to carry his 10-12 months-outdated daughter to her first Steelers sport. And 23-12 months-outdated New Jersey resident Austin Pasquale purchased tickets along with his dad every week earlier to attend his first sport in 10 years.
Richard Parker purchased his tickets for the Steelers-Ravens sport earlier than any others this season. Living in New York, Parker often tries to attend the Ravens video games as a result of they provide the shortest journey, however this 12 months it’s going to be additional particular.
“I figured there was a good chance this would be Ben’s last season, so I immediately looked for the Baltimore game,” Parker mentioned in a message, including he managed to get to 6 different video games this season. “It ended up working out perfectly as it will indeed be his last. Being there in person when he takes his final snaps will be an awesome experience.”
An Ohioan by start, Roethlisberger finishes his Steelers profession as a born-once more Yinzer, his battle and gritty willpower embodying a metropolis constructed on the backs of blue-collar staff and a company identified for its physicality.
“I’ve liked him ever since he came in the league,” mentioned Jason Cline, who made the 5-hour drive from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to look at Roethlisberger in Kansas City on Dec. 26. Cline made the journey along with his dad, who attended Roethlisberger’s fourth begin in Dallas. “His toughness. He fits the team perfectly,” the youthful Cline mentioned.
Steelers fans haven’t at all times felt this fashion about their quarterback. The sexual assault allegations and the ensuing suspension, together with the bike accident that just about killed him, created a rift between Roethlisberger and town. Eventually, scabs shaped over the fan base’s frustrations as Roethlisberger saved profitable and tried to maneuver previous his off-subject points with a quiet, suburban household life.
“You try to forget the bad stuff,” Zach Steiner, 45, mentioned. “That’s with anybody. You look for the good, you try to look for the highlights. So, no, I don’t think about how everybody bashed him for being reckless and riding on the world’s most powerful motorcycle.
“But everybody wants to remember the good stuff. Everybody wants to remember him raising Lombardis, winning games for us.”
Steiner and his buddy David Cousineau, each of Pittsburgh, introduced their daughters with them for the Tennessee Titans sport on Dec. 19. For Steiner, bringing Catherine, 16, to her first Steelers sport was a bonding second — even when it would take a couple of years for the magnitude of the event to sink in.
“Ben’s up there,” Steiner mentioned. “It’s Terry [Bradshaw] and him. I don’t know if she understands the gravity of it because this is her first game, but maybe looking back, being able to say, ‘Yo, I watched that dude play’ will be cool.”