The Browns passed on Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 NFL Draft.
And ever since that time, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback has passed on the Browns.
Sitting at No. 7, and then No. 6 after they made a trade with the Detroit Lions to move up a spot to get the man they wanted, the Browns drafted a player from Miami – of Fla., that is – in tight end Kellen Winslow. At No. 11, the Steelers also took a player from Miami – of Ohio, that is – in Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger remembers it well.
"I'm happy the Browns passed on me. I wasn't then, but I am now," Roethlisberger, a former star at Findlay (Ohio) High School, said Wednesday during a conference call with the Cleveland media in advance of Sunday's game between the teams at Heinz Field. "I'm glad I'm here."
And the Steelers are glad he's there as well.
For while Winslow turned out to be a good player for the Browns before being traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past offseason, he was not nearly as good as Roethlisberger has been for the Steelers, especially against Cleveland. He has played nine games against the Browns – all wins – and has thrown 12 touchdown passes with but seven interceptions. He has had five contests with a quarterback rating of 100 or better, highlighted by the 120 mark he had in that memorable – or nightmarish, as it were – 41-0 whitewashing on Cleveland Eve 2005 that soured the holidays for Northeast Ohioans.
The linebacker-sized 6-foot-5, 241-pounder, who already has two Super Bowl victories under his belt over the previous five years, including one last season, is off to what could end up being his best season. In helping the Steelers to two straight wins and a 3-2 mark overall, he is 127-of-172 passing (73.8 percent) for 1,470 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions for a 102.6 rating. His top year was 2007, when he completed 264-of-404 (65.3) for 3,154 yards, 32 TDs and 11 picks for a 104.1 rating.
All this from a Steelers team that, for decades, was run-first and pass only when absolutely needed. Now it's pass-first and run only occasionally to keep the defense honest.
"We're becoming a balanced team, and I'm understanding the offense more," Roethlisberger said. "But I'm still not satisfied. I want to improve."
And he probably will. At 27, he should be just entering the prime years of his career.
Contrast that with the Browns' situation. Once again, they have a quarterback controversy – but no productive quarterback. Derek Anderson, who will be making his third consecutive start on Sunday after taking over for the struggling Brady Quinn, is now struggling himself. He was 2-of-17 passing for 23 yards, no TDs and one interception for a 15.1 rating – one of the worst performances in Browns history – in last Sunday's 6-3 win over the Buffalo Bills. Granted, Anderson was victimized by the Browns dropping possibly the most passes in one contest in team annals, but at the same time, he also wasn't making anyone forget Otto Graham, Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar with his part in that forgettable display.
Only in 2007, when Anderson had one of the greatest seasons ever for a Browns quarterback and became the first Cleveland passer in 20 years to make the Pro Bowl, have the Browns had a settled – and productive – situation at QB. Other than that, it's been a long line of guys – some experienced and some not – trying out for the position, none of them keeping it for very long.
That's a telling statistic. It shows how vitally important a quarterback is. For only in 2007, when Anderson had that big year, have the Browns enjoyed a winning season (10-6) in the stretch that Roethlisberger's been with Pittsburgh. Otherwise since 2004, they've been, in order, 4-12, 6-10, 4-12 and 4-12.
Conversely, since 2004, the Steelers have been 15-1 in the regular season and made it to the AFC Championship Game, 11-5 and won the Super Bowl, 8-8, 10-6 and qualified for the playoffs, and 12-4 and captured the Super Bowl. Roethlisberger took over as the starter in the third game of that 2004 season when Tommy Maddox got hurt and has been entrenched ever since, except when hurt. The Browns haven't had that kind of consistency at quarterback in 20 years, since Kosar's tenure, when they had a series of successful seasons.
Think about that.
If only the Browns had thought about it before making the decision they did in the 2004 draft, when they audibled to the wrong selection.