January 19, 2017
FOXBORO — There will be an historically prominent pair of quarterbacks on the field Sunday at Gillette Stadium for the AFC Championship Game.
So what took so long?
Patriots franchise cornerstone Tom Brady and Steelers signal caller Ben Roethlisberger have combined to win six Super Bowl rings, the most among opposing quarterbacks in playoff history. It’s also the first time since 1979 and third time ever that two multi-Super Bowl winners have squared off in the postseason.
And to think, Brady and Roethlisberger lead a pair of powerhouse franchises but haven’t met in the playoffs in a dozen years. It had the makings of a great rivalry a decade ago, even if only an appetizer to Brady and Peyton Manning, but the seasons have flown by without it ever materializing.
So this could be, albeit briefly, the start of a mini-rivalry as the two all-timers close down their careers.
“I think there’s always something going on,” Brady said of the historical element surrounding Sunday’s matchup.
The 39-year-old is certainly used to the peripheral storylines surrounding these games. After all, it’s his record-setting 11th appearance in the title game. He met Manning four times with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in back-to-back years.
There were also two major showdowns with the Steelers, including the 2001 title tilt when the visitors felt disrespected by Pittsburgh’s public declaration over its Super Bowl XXXVI plans. And in 2004, after Roethlisberger and the Steelers ended the Patriots’ record-setting 21-game winning streak, Brady and company got revenge in the pair’s lone postseason meeting. And on and on the storylines have gone.
Roethlisberger is the second-most accomplished playoff quarterback in the game today with a 13-6 record and two Super Bowl victories. And to think, the 34-year-old’s credentials pale in comparison to Brady, a four-time champion with a 23-9 record in the postseason. That obviously says more about Brady’s achievements than Roethlisberger, who will have a case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame upon his retirement.
“Ben is an incredible player, and he’s been that way since 2004 when he came into the league,” Brady said. “I’ve always loved the way he plays, very tough, hard-nosed. He’s great for the city of Pittsburgh — a very tough, hard-nosed city.”
Brady, who has a well-documented case as the greatest of all time, is peerless among today’s quarterbacks, and Roethlisberger hasn’t been shy over his appreciation for his weekend opponent. He even asked Brady for his jersey when the teams met in October at Heinz Field.
“I have a lot of respect for him,” Roethlisberger said. “I think that’s very well-known. I think he’s one of, if not the greatest, quarterbacks of all-time. It’s been an honor to play against him, to call him a competitor. So I put (the jersey) up in my office with the likes of the (Dan) Marinos and (John) Elways and (Jim) Kellys.”
Surely, Brady will never be part of another rivalry like what he had with Manning, as he was 11-6 against the future Hall of Famer. And Brady may never experience a Super Bowl rematch quite like the Patriots’ pair of meetings with Eli Manning, unless of course Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson or Matt Ryan continue exceeding their level of play.
But on the AFC side, what’s left? Brady and Flacco have taken the lead in four duels between the Patriots and Ravens, but Flacco’s inconsistency issues have kept him out of the conversation among the game’s best. And as much as everyone has wanted to elevate Andrew Luck into the discussion, the Patriots’ pair of playoff blowouts over the Colts turned that potential rivalry into a dud. Ditto for Brady and Philip Rivers, who met in back-to-back postseasons before the Chargers tumbled to irrelevance.
Maybe Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota continue to emerge in the coming years, but there are plenty of holes in their teams’ rosters to lock the Raiders and Titans into playoff spots. That’s why Roethlisberger and the Steelers could meet Brady and the Patriots again on the big stage.
But clearly, there’s a degree of flukiness to these showdowns. Heck, Brady and Peyton Manning endured a six-season stretch without crossing paths in the playoffs. And when the Steelers exploded with a 15-1 record in 2004 during Roethlisberger’s rookie season, which was cut down by Brady’s Patriots, it seemed like this could be an annual episode. Oddly enough, this is Roethlisberger’s ninth trip to the playoffs (the Patriots have been in the playoff field in eight of those seasons), but the dearth of meetings remained.
Maybe this can spark something new. Brady wants to play another half dozen years, and Roethlisberger might have the same amount of gas left in his tank. Based on their reciprocal admiration, they probably wouldn’t complain if they could rip off something special, both Sunday and in years to come.
“I think the respect is very mutual,” Brady said.