Terry Bradshaw or Ben Roethlisberger?…Ben Roethlisberger or Terry Bradshaw? If both were in their primes right now, and you had to choose between them, which one would it be? Bradshaw is a Hall of Famer, as Ben will one day be. Both have won multiple Super Bowls, as Bradshaw, an MVP in Super Bowls XIII and XIV, won his four in six years, while Roethlisberger won his two in four years, and could easily have been MVP of Super Bowl XLIII. Both have big arms and are capable of extending plays and improvisation to make things happen. Terry Bradshaw represents an era where his leadership led the Steelers franchise from being perennial losers, to becoming an NFL dynasty, while Ben Roethlisberger represents an era where the Steelers have twice returned to Super Bowl glory. Ben Roethlisberger and Terry Bradshaw are two of only four quarterbacks in NFL history to have won 100 games in their first 150 starts, so there’s absolutely no doubt that they are both winners, but fans from each era tend to debate which one of the two is the better quarterback.
Most discussions tend to start out with “Bradshaw won four Super Bowls” followed by “Well, Ben has much better numbers in far less time and he’s won two rings”. Let’s start by taking a look at the numbers for both Steelers legends.
Ben Roethlisber: 2004-2015
Atts Comp % Yards Td’s Ints Record Rating
5353 3428 64.0 42426 269 143 112-55-0 94.1
Terry Bradshaw: 1970-1983
Atts Comp % Yards Td’s Ints Record Rating
3901 2025 51.9 27989 212 210 107-51-0 70.9
Terry Bradshaw’s numbers represent his entire 14 year career, while Ben Roethlisberger’s numbers, which are superior across the board, run through the 14th game of his 12th season in the NFL. Just by looking at the statistics, Ben Roethlisberger would appear to be the obvious choice between the two, but this comparison runs deeper than the numbers. At the start of Terry Bradshaw’s career, in 1970, he came to the Steelers when they were devoid of all talent. He had nobody to speak of around him, on offense, that could help him out, and be his go to guy. Ben Roethlisberger, on the other hand, took over for an injured Tommy Maddox, and had a quite a few weapons at his disposal. The first three years of each of their careers produced stats that reflect the talent levels they had around them.
While Bradshaw’s path to Super Bowl triumph was filled with struggles, Ben Roethlisberger got off to a fast start. He was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in his first year, and became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl in his second. So, with all of the success that Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger have achieved, which one would be more preferable to start a franchise with, starting as a rookie? To answer this, there are a lot more questions that need answering. Could Ben have had his same success, as Bradshaw did, with the Steelers of the 70’s? With his size and skill set, there is no doubt that Ben Roethlisberger could have played in the NFL back in that era, because he was as big, if not, bigger than most who would be trying to put him on the ground. His accuracy was well above the norm for the 70’s, although at that time, receivers were getting bumped and grabbed through the entirety of their routes. Ben probably would have gotten off to a better start though, than Bradshaw did, with those early 70’s Steelers. His increased accuracy may have even have helped extend Lynn Swann’s career, by hitting him in stride a lot more and not hanging him out to dry so much, where Swann suffered most of his concussions. His ability to extend plays also translates well, back to that era, and the fact that he makes those around him better, those 70’s Steelers may have won a couple of more Lombardi Trophy’s. There were far fewer rules protecting quarterbacks back in the 70’s, but not much would have changed for Ben, because of the way he plays the game. Things may have even been easier for Roethlisberger with defensive players, who were much smaller than they are today. While Ben’s numbers wouldn’t be what they are now, if he had played in the 70’s, Ben could possibly be wearing a few more Super Bowl rings.
Ben Roethlisberger came to the Steelers with the eleventh overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, joining a team that was loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. When he had to replace an injured Tommy Maddox, all that was required of Ben was to manage the offense, which was a lot less pressure than Terry Bradshaw faced. Bradshaw was looked at as being an instant savior as a rookie, on a team with no talent, and wasn’t prepared for that kind of pressure. So, How might Terry Bradshaw have fared as a rookie with the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers as opposed to the the 1970 Steelers? If he has the same start that he had from 1970-74, Bradshaw would be out of the league by 2007, but with all the talent that the Steelers had, there would have been little to no pressure on Bradshaw, or expectations for him to have immediate success. Bradshaw, would have been able to relax a lot more and focus on absorbing the playbook. He also would have plenty of quality veterans around him, like Hines Ward and Jerome Bettis, to mentor and teach him, not to mention a coaching staff that was more conducive to teaching, and provided a quarterback coach. When Bradshaw went in to replace Maddox, he would have entered the game knowing that there was no pressure for him to win it, but just to manage it. While not as accurate or efficient as Roethlisberger, Bradshaw has a lot of the same attributes. He takes full advantage of Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward and his other weapons to have a rookie year in 2004 that is light years ahead of what he experienced in 1970, although I’m not sure he wins NFL Rookie of the Year. Terry Bradshaw would have greatly benefited from playing his entire career under the Mel Blount rule, as his numbers and completion percentage would have significantly increased, just like they did after it was passed in 1978. That’s when the Steelers could really take advantage of his arm, and the offense really took off. It’s no accident that Bradshaw became a two-time Super Bowl MVP after the rule to protect receivers was passed. You’re either a big game quarterback or you’re not, and Terry Bradshaw might be the best big game quarterback of all. With the talent that the Steelers had from 2004-2010, Bradshaw would have likely developed quicker, and helped win those couple of Lombardi’s that the Steelers won with Ben. Assuming he called his own plays like he did in the 70’s, there is a pretty good chance that the Steelers beat the Packers in Super Bowl XLV, because no quarterback in history was a better play caller.
Ultimately, it would seem that Terry Bradshaw would have benefited greatly from playing for the Steelers in today’s NFL, as it has evolved into a pass first league where the receivers and quarterbacks are protected. Although his ring total might have decreased by just one, his overall statistics would look more Hall of Fame-like. If Ben Roethlisberger had played in the 70’s, how much would his numbers have decreased playing in a run first era? With the team he had around him, and with his accuracy, the Steelers may have won five or maybe even six rings. Ben has size, accuracy, and can do things no other quarterback has done before, but Terry was more of a true gunslinger and had a bigger arm, while calling all of his own plays. Either way, if someone had an NFL franchise with a talented roster, needing only a quarterback that was capable of leading them to a championship, it would not be a clear cut decision if their two choices were Terry Bradshaw or Ben Roethlisberger. Above and beyond their statistics, both Roethlisberger and Bradshaw are winners.