On the surface, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger‘s current situation seems clear: He has an injury that requires surgery, he gets surgery, he recovers from the surgery, he rehabs the injured area, and he comes back as good as new. Even if that happens, if the surgery is successful and if the recovery goes without complication and he checks every box in the rehab process, questions will linger about his future.
Consider this: Roethlisberger’s throwing elbow gave out on him in the second game of the regular season without any specific or apparent injury. When Chris Simms interviewed Roethlisberger during training camp — on a day when Roethlisberger hadn’t really done much at practice — he wore a giant wrap with ice on the throwing elbow. It’s possible, then, that a lifetime of normal wear and tear finally caught up to Roethlisberger’s elbow, after only 75 passes thrown in game conditions this year.
Given that he doesn’t seem to be adopting the TB12 approach to extending his career for as long as he possibly can, it’s not all that surprising. Roethlisberger told Simms that the two-time Super Bowl winner doesn’t do much throwing at all in the offseason. If that’s the case, it’s likely safe to surmise he’s also not on the kind of strict and exacting regimen that a guy like Tom Brady has employed to outpace Father Time.
It’s also likely safe to surmise that Roethlisberger may be losing his footrace with Father Time. We’ve become collectively spoiled by Brady’s ability to not miss a beat at 42; time may show that he’s not a pioneer but an outlier, and that others may not have the same ability or commitment to keep body parts from breaking down the way that they naturally and inevitably do.
Maybe the season-ending injury will make Roethlisberger determined to embrace a relentless commitment to body maintenance, repair, and recovery. It’s fair to wonder whether, if he already had undergone such an epiphany, he’d still be playing in 2019.
Regardless, he’ll be 38 in 2020, and it’s possible that either the elbow won’t be the same or something else will begin to break down. Perhaps that’s why coach Mike Tomlin said only that there’s a “strong possibility” Ben will bounce back next year.
At this point, it’s far from certain that the player whose elbow betrayed him less than six weeks into the regular season will be ready and able to endure a 16-game grind a year from now, when Father Time has had 12 more months to chase him down.