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Steelers’ 2004 Rookie Ben Roethlisberger to Bill Cowher: “We Won, Right, Coach?” But I’d Tell Him, “You Can’t Do It”

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Steelers’ 2004 Rookie Ben Roethlisberger to Bill Cowher: “We Won, Right, Coach?” But I’d Tell Him, “You Can’t Do It”

The Pittsburgh Steelers headed into the 2004 NFL Draft still looking for their next franchise quarterback. It had been two decades since Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw had unexpectedly retired. The days of Cliff Stoudt, Bubby Brister, Neil O’Donnell, Kordell Stewart, and Tommy Maddox had all painfully ended with heart breaking defeats, or worse — seasons that never were. Embarrassing loses at home in AFC Championship games, and a self inflicted loss to Dallas in Super Bowl 30. It was a rough quarter century for SteelerNation following that win over the Rams in Super Bowl XIV.

Then in 2004, the Steelers were handed Ben Roethlisberger in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft. Over the next 18 years, he would generate some of the greatest games in Steelers history and propel the team to two Super Bowl victories. But in the beginning stages, Roethlisberger and then Steelers coach Bill Cowher would have to learn how each other functioned. And for Cowher, that meant trying to allow Roethlisberger the freedoms to be himself, but at the same time, get lessons into his head.

Steelers Ben and Cowher

Bill Cowher and Ben Roethlisberger (#7). | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Speaking on The Colin Cowherd Podcast, Cowher detailed some of the situations that he had to deal with when it came to Roethlisberger and the success that the team was having. He also realized for the first time that he had something special with Roethlisberger. He finally had a quarterback that had ‘it.’

“The one thing that Ben gave us, I realized when he came and won his first 15 games was he came in and gave us his degree of a guy out there who can make plays that weren’t scripted. The improvisation, wow! That’s one of the first guys I had, okay now almost to a fault, he’d come in at times and he won his 12th game in a row and I’d pull him in and say ‘Ben [you] can’t do this, [you] can’t do that, you got to stay in here and go through your progression because so and so are open.'” Cowher would continue. “But he’d go outside the pocket and play street ball and throw the ball across the field to Plaxico [Burress] for a first [down]. And here we go, first and goal at the one. And we go in and score and I’d go, ‘you can’t do it’ and he’d walk out. We just won his 12th straight game. He’d look at me, ‘we won, right, Coach?’ I go, ‘yeah, we won. But just understand what I’m trying to say to you.'”

Roethlisberger was right. The Steelers had won 12 straight and were rolling towards the best record in franchise history. A record that still stands today. Cowher would go on to say that Roethlisberger would go to offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt with his complaints about his head coach. From there, Cowher would have to tell Whisenhunt to downplay Cowher’s strict attitude towards his quarterback.

“He complained to Wiz [Whisenhunt] about me getting on him. And I said, ‘Wiz, make sure you also tell him I’m really not that mad. Don’t stop what you’re doing. I’m just trying to get something to resonate in his head. But please have him continue to have fun playing the game of football and just say, don’t worry, I’ll deal with Coach.’

So we had to play good cop, bad cop for like the first three years with him. He did give you, like I said, he gave you that guy. That when the game was on the line, he was going to find a way to get it done. And that’s what you can see in his eyes. He was athletic, he was smart, he could see the field, he can make all the throws and he was really really competitive. And so it was kind of, for the first time, having a guy who had all the tools. I had guys [who] had good ones. Neil was great in the pocket, Kordell can make plays on the run. Tommy Maddox was perfect as an intermediate guy, a pocket guy. But this guy could be in a pocket guy, he can shake off rushers, he also could get out, he could see the field better than anybody that I had played with, I’m like, wow, he actually went from here to here. I don’t think he knows that he did that, but it was actually the right thing to do. But it was fun coaching him, challenging because I was trying to do the right thing with him. And on Sundays, when Ben was out there in the fourth quarter and you want to ball in someone’s hands to bring you back, he was a guy.”

Roethlisberger would take the Steelers to the AFC Championship game where everything would all come crumbling down against the New England Patriots. Roethlisberger would have a forgetful day and the Steelers would lose at home again under Cowher. But the lessons would finally resonate with Roethlisberger. The following year, Roethlisberger and Cowher would finally get that along awaited ‘one for the thumb.’



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The Steelers have always been a central part of my life. I grew up listening to WDVE tapes recorded off of the radio of Steelers fight songs, and wearing Steelers jerseys as a fashion statement. I joined the message board when I was 12, and this site has been a big part of my life ever since. I’ve found life long friends and met some of the best people on earth through this site. In 2015, I was able to help revive the site and develop a news website and all of our social media platforms. I can’t wait to continue to grow with all of you. Go Steelers!



  1. Gail M Myers

    May 21, 2022 at 7:59 am

    Ben was one in a million!

  2. Pingback: Former Steelers 11-Year Veteran Opens Up About Pittsburgh's Captivating QB Battle: "Mason Rudolph is a damn good quarterback who needs a shot." -

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