When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, future Hall-of-Famer and All-Pro grouch Ben Roethlisberger welcomed him to the team by questioning why he was there at all.
“I was surprised when they took a quarterback because I thought that maybe in the third round, you know you can get some really good football players that can help this team now,” said Roethlisberger, whose favorite offseason pastime is publicly mulling retirement.
It only took 17 months for karma to catch up with him.
Roethlisberger, who had never started fewer than 11 games during his first 15 years in the league, suffered a season-ending injury during the Steelers’ Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, making – guess who? – QB-of-the-future Mason Rudolph the Steelers’ de facto QB-of-the-present.
Within hours, the Roethlisberger rumor mill had begun churning out the requisite will-he-or-won’t-he retirement takes. That’s not remarkable.
What is remarkable is how many Steelers fans appear ready to dump the six-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion in the trash bin following Mason Rudolph’s NFL debut.
Rudolph completed 12-of-19 passes for 112 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. That earned him a 92.5 passer rating in his first-ever start, along with the undying affections of the Pittsburgh fanbase’s more fickle contingents.
In 2004, Ben Roethlisberger replaced an injured Tommy Maddox in the second game of the season. The Steelers went 15-1 and the Maddox era ended. Mason Rudolph now has the chance to end the Big Ben era in Pittsburgh. Go get ‘em, kid. #HereWeGo https://t.co/7AECqpPFnZ
— JuJu Kim (@jujkim) September 16, 2019
I mean I like Ben and its sad but I'm ready to see if the Mason Rudolph era is upon us, especially since we know Ben is near the end of his career anyway.
— Allison, Dissonant Cadence (she/her) (@DarrMakesGames) September 16, 2019
I agree on Mason Rudolph. Ian, it's just our supporting cast I worry about. James Conner injured and the defense has conceded 61 points in.the 1st 2 games.
— keith sadler (@keithsadler1) September 16, 2019
Mason Rudolph is perfectly capable of the situation he's in. He was drafted for this moment. He can lead this team to 9-10 wins.
— Z🏠 (@gregzhouse) September 16, 2019
The old guy I work with is a die hard Steelers fan. I told him Big Ben was done for the year and his reply was “Big Ben did this on purpose because he wants to retire and give Mason Rudolph a shot.” Pretty sure he’s lost his mind. @ToneDigz @nickmaraldo thoughts?
— Monster Zero (@ceasarromero) September 16, 2019
This is how big ben’s career started. Mason Rudolph for 2021 super bowl champs
— Brad Pittsburgh (@brad_pittsburgh) September 16, 2019
Sure, I hand-picked those tweets to push a narrative, but they weren’t exactly hard to find, either. “Mason Rudolph” is trending, and it’s an all-out love-fest.
The “Big Ben” tag? You’d think the man had died.
Mannn I’m so sick about this and really hope this isn’t the end. My whole life as a Steelers fan I’ve only known Big Ben as the Steelers starting Quaterback and it could truly be the end of an era 😔
— Joe Muraca (@_joemuraca) September 16, 2019
I mean, it’s not like this is a ghost-of-Eli Manning/Daniel Jones scenario.
Before heading to the IR, Roethlisberger was 35-of-62 for 351 yards, no touchdowns, and 1 interception. He’ll end the season with a career-worst 20.8 QBR, according to data from Pro Football Reference. That’s not pretty, but it’s also a small sample size (And it sounds like his elbow was troubling him in Week 1).
After all, Big Ben did lead the NFL in passing yards (5,129) and set a franchise season record for passing touchdowns (34) in 2018, not that Steeler Nation remembers. Or cares.
It’s the Mason Rudolph era, baby, and Steelers fans will ride that train as far as it takes them, most likely toward the top of the 2020 NFL draft.