The Pittsburgh Steelers had just brought Tommy Maddox‘s career back from the dead. The former 1992 first round pick had flamed out during his time in the NFL. He started just four games from 1992 to 1995 before leaving the NFL. He was selling insurance when he became the face of a new league — the XFL. From there, Maddox would win the league’s MVP trophy and get a shot to latch on with Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh brought Maddox to town in 2001 to back up Kordell Stewart. But in 2002 after Stewart struggled against the Cleveland Browns, coach Bill Cowher turned to Maddox in relief of Stewart. Maddox would come in and lead Pittsburgh to a come from behind victory and Stewart would be sent to the bench. Maddox started 11 games in 2002 and led Pittsburgh to the divisional round of the playoffs where they’d eventually lose to the Tennessee Titans after a bogus overtime flop by kicker, Joe Nedney.
Pittsburgh was primed for big things in 2003 with Maddox at the helm. But 2003 didn’t go the way Pittsburgh had planned. Instead, they struggled to win only six games, their lowest total in Cowher’s career. That’s when they had the opportunity to select Ben Roethlisberger, and Steelers President Dan Rooney wasn’t going to let that chance go by the wayside.
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Now the Steelers had apparently told Maddox the day prior that the team was going to select some offensive linemen to help him. But when Roethlisberger fell past the Cleveland Browns and into the Pittsburgh’s arms, they couldn’t pass on the chance.
Cowher told Colin Cowherd on his podcast that Maddox was angry at Pittsburgh’s decision. This was brought up while the two were speaking about Aaron Rodgers’ situation in Green Bay and how the coach would’ve dealt with it if he was Rodgers’ coach.
“Tommy Maddox vented as you read in a book after I drafted Ben Roethlisberger. ‘You told me you weren’t going to draft the quarterback,'” Maddox said to Cowher. ‘Well I didn’t know he was going to drop low, okay,’ and ‘deal with it,’ was Cowher’s response. ‘Show me the competitor you are. Play and see what’s going to happen.'”
Ed Bouchette who at the time wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette talked to Maddox’s agent back in 2018 about the situation that transpired in 2004. What prompted Bouchette to reach out to Vann McElroy was the fact that Roethlisberger wasn’t happy that Pittsburgh had selected Mason Rudolph in the 2018 NFL Draft.
“Agent Vann McElroy described Maddox’s reaction to the pick as ranging from anger to betrayal to emotional. He said Maddox was promised the Steelers would draft a tackle first. He said Maddox was so upset, he would fly from Dallas the next day to discuss the situation with Bill Cowher and the Rooney’s, and Maddox did just that.
‘I think there’s always, in this business, emotion,’ Maddox said after the meeting, adding that his agent overreacted.”
In 2018, Maddox was asked about his thoughts when Pittsburgh selected Roethlisberger in 2004. He told Behind The Steel Curtain that it was ‘tough’ for him.
“I would be lying if I said that it didn’t surprise me. When I left the facility that Friday, they told me they were probably going to draft an offensive lineman. It was tough for me, but I think that it would be hard to say that they didn’t make the right choice. It is always hard to lose your job to an injury, but let’s face it, it was only a matter of time. Ben has had a great career and I still root for him and the Steelers every week.”
Imagine if this would’ve played out on social media back in 2004? Maddox didn’t even have to worry about it as he would remain the Steelers starting quarterback heading into 2004. But an injury in the Steelers’ Week 2 loss to Baltimore would put Roethlisberger into the starting lineup. By the time Maddox had healed, the Steelers and Roethlisberger had run off seven straight wins. There was no turning back at that point.