Times like these make you appreciate Ben Roethlisberger and Terry Bradshaw all the more.
By many measures, it is the men who didn’t play quarterback for the Steelers than serve as conversation pieces for Steelers Nation.
Dan Marino is of course the most famous non-Steelers quarterback of the modern era, recently discussed in Steel Curtain Rising’s post commemorating the Todd Blackledge trade. Marino, however has plenty of company, for this is the franchise that cut Johnny Unitas, Len Dawson, and Jack Kemp, only to see those men return in other uniforms to collect their retribution .
Chad Pennington, another Steelers quarterback who never was, tore his ACL today in a pick up basketball game, and most likely is facing the end of his career.
Did Pennington Almost Become a Steeler?
Following one poor and another atrocious season by Kordell Stewart in 1998 and 1999, the conventional wisdom in the NFL was that the Steelers must draft a quarterback. With the 8th pick overall the Steelers figured to get a shot at one of the collegiate rank’s top signal callers.
Rumors flew both before and after the 2003 NFL draft that Pennington was to be Pittsburgh’s pick. Pennington even claimed that Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert called and said he was going to be a Steelers should he be available.
The Steelers of course picked Plaxico Burress. Never one above sowing mischief, Bill Parcells leaked rumors that he’d called the Steelers and offered them Chad Pennington and Sean Ellis in exchange for Burress.
We’ll never know if there’s any truth to behind those tales.
Lack of Pennington Delivers Roethlisberger?
The Steelers would continue to ride the roller coaster under center, as Kordell Stewart surged back into the starting role in 2000 and 2001 only to fade quickly in early 2002, giving way to Tommy “Gun” Maddox, who blazed like a comet only to struggle with the Cover-2 defnese (and perhaps a little too much over coaching.)
Throughout this process, there were plenty of second guessers who stood ready to dub Pennington as the Marino of his age (in terms of opportunity cost to the Steelers, not in terms of talent.)
Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriola roundly refuted those second guesses prior to the Steelers 2003 game against the Jets, arguing that Pennington was a system quarterback or a “game manager” and therefore, not worthy of a number 8 pick.
Of course the Steelers went on to lose that game, which helped seal the 11th pick which brought Ben Roethlisberger to Pittsburgh.
Sadly, it appears that Pennington’s career will end with a greater balance of unrealized than realized potential.
Again, it makes you appreciate Roethlisberger and Bradshaw all the more.