To watch ESPN’s mega-treacly sendoff of Ben Roethlisberger was to learn to hate ESPN, Roethlisberger, and yourself simultaneously. By halftime, Roethlisberger had thrown 34 passes to gain 96 yards in a solipsistic Kobe-esque goodbye that was so painful to watch as to hear that it took running back Najee Harris to save the entire show in the second half and remind Steelers fans that there is a future that isn’t quite so Ben monstering innocent villagers.
The first half was so Ben-centric that it almost reminded one of Antonio Brown’s walkoff piece the day before, which may have been caused by either petulance or by pathology but in either event was the this-is-now-about-me event of the year, beating Roethlisberger by a nose. It must be said that had the roles been reversed and Roethlisberger stripped off his top on the way off the field we’d have been far more quickly repelled, but let’s not engage in a thought exercise of national night terrors if we don’t have to do so.
Brown’s was such a complete level of self-destruction, though, that those who condemned him were at least forced to stop and consider the possibility that it might not have been entirely voluntary, but part of a greater neurological issue which we haven’t the means yet to knowledgeably explore. When Tom Brady is the voice of compassionate reason about football-related issues, America tends to stop and give that a moment’s thought before resuming to its favorite pastime of Pavlovian condemnation.
Roethlisberger, though, seemed to have bought in to what Reggie Jackson called “the magnitude of me” just because he might never play at Heinz Field again. To be sure, it was the kind of do-what-you-want sendoff that looked like it had been preplanned by the coaching staff. He’s had a number of high-volume pass attempt games before, which means a high number of high-volume pass attempts in one half or the other, but most of those were either in second halves or in games that were either a shootout or out of hand. In either event, his yards per attempt number was a preposterously low 2.67, the lowest for any game in his career, and safely in the first percentile of any quarterback who has thrown more than 20 times in a game.
But maybe this isn’t entirely Roethlisberger’s fault. Maybe it was just the relentless drumbeating for his greatness that sprinted well past the point of self-evident to “In the name of all the deities, just shut up about it already.” It couldn’t have happened without his will to be that guy, and it isn’t like Baker Mayfield did anything to distract us. For him, the story line had already descended to “When can the Browns get rid of this guy and start over for the 12th time in a quarter century?”
Fortunately for viewers, there was Harris, who is the true future of the Mike Tomlin administration, and Brown, for whom the nation’s weekend distaste was aimed. Harris has an as-yet-unquenched joy for a hard man’s game, and when properly unleashed can provide twice the entertainment in half the attempts (he finished with 6.7 yards per rush, only twice and change as much as Roethlisberger). The Steelers are all but out of the playoffs, and the Browns very definitely are, but least Roethlisberger had the good sense to recognize after halftime that the game needed Harris more than it needed him. If there’s a takeaway that does credit to him, let it be that. Oh, and burn the tape of the first half.