The Best Steelers Quarterback Ever: Bradshaw or Roethlisberger?

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images) /
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The Steelers have had many great quarterbacks to play for them over the decades. However, two, in particular, stand above the rest.

When one thinks of quarterbacks mainly, only one or two come to mind depending on how old you are. Those quarterbacks are Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger. In part as those are the only two quarterbacks that have led the Steelers offense to Superbowl titles.  They, aside from Neil O’Donnell, are the only two that have played in more than one Superbowl as well. This fact inevitably leads to a debate about which quarterback is better, Terry Bradshaw or Ben Roethlisberger.

Each fan is impartial to one and has an opinion, but that does not settle the debate. Hopefully, though, this analysis will make a choice easier. Keep in mind, though just because one may have been better, that doesn’t mean you have to like only one.

If one just goes by the raw stats, then sure, with Ben Roethlisberger’s numbers, it is easy to say he is the better of the two quarterbacks. Merely relying on the raw statistics, though, gives a distorted perspective. Bradshaw put up great numbers as well, for the era in which he played. True he did not exceed 30,000 passing yards in his career and had nowhere near as many wins as others. Of course, his career ended early to a devastating elbow injury. It could have played for perhaps four or five more seasons and certainly would have added to his stats.

Roethlisberger, on the other hand, is simply a great quarterback. When younger, he had strong legs, which allowed him to turn a sack into a pass for a first down; he has managed to avoid serious injuries allowing him a much longer career. Big Ben is in the top six quarterbacks for fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. He could put up great numbers in any era.

One has to consider that each of the players competed in completely different Eras of the National Football League. Terry Bradshaw never had the luxury of many of the game’s rules that Ben Roethlisberger takes for granted today.

Take, for example, Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. He began his career in 1973, three years after Terry Bradshaw started playing. Through 1977 he averaged 166 passing yards per game. Then when the NFL changed the passing rules, he exploded and for the duration of his career averaged 276.7 yards per game. He put up monster numbers, which no other quarterback had come close to before except for Fran Tarkenton.

Every quarterback ahead of Dan Fouts in passing yards all began their career after Dan Fouts Retired except for five. Four of those five started their career within four years of Fouts Retiring. If Dan Fouts would have had the advantage of the passing rules established in 1978, he could have had an extra 7007 career passing yards and would sit in 11th place for all-time passing yards instead of 17th place. That would put him ahead of Warren Moon and behind John Elway.

Conversely, take Tom Brady; he ranks in the top five spots in many passing categories. Yes a great quarterback, it would have excelled no matter the era. However, it’s hard to imagine him passing for 76,481 yards had he played in the 70’s considering the defensive had more freedom on pass coverage and the lax rules on hitting a quarterback after he threw the pass. Brady would have taken a lot more punishment. It seems unlikely he would have ranked as high in as many of the passing categories, if at all, considering teams still focused on running first, passing second.

To determine which Steelers quarterback is better, we need to look at each player’s career, look at their pros and cons along with stats and accomplishments before deciding as to which Steelers quarterback is truly better.