Wednesday, April 12, 2006

No question, Maddox earned his ring

We are the champions. Some of us even have TWO championships. How Tommy Maddox became the most important Steelers quarterback since Terry Bradshaw:

1. In 2003, his one and only year as Pittsburgh's full-time starting QB, Maddox led the team to its worst showing of the Bill Cowher era. The Steelers' 6-10 record left them with the No. 11 pick in the 2004 draft. This is significant; over the preceding decade, the team's average first pick had been No. 21. With the 11th pick, the Steelers selected Ben Roethlisberger. The highest-rated quarterback still available at No. 21 that year? J.P. Losman.

2. In 2004, Maddox began the season as the starter but got hurt in a Week 2 loss to the Ravens. The injury forced the Steelers to junk the bring-Ben-along-slowly strategy and throw the kid into the fire. Though the team had high hopes for Roethlisberger as their QB of the future, they had somewhat lower expectations for him as their QB of the present. "We will certainly find out (whether he can lead the team)," Cowher said. "I don't see any reason why he can't." Said Hines Ward: "The potential's there. Now it's just for him to build on." But freed from much of the pressure that usually comes with being a rookie starter -- like the intense scrutiny from training camp on -- Roethlisberger won all 14 of his regular season starts and led the Steelers to the AFC title game.

3. In 2005, Maddox filled in for the injured Roethlisberger in a Week 6 game against Jacksonville. Maddox ended up throwing three interceptions, including the one in overtime that Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis returned 41 yards for the winning touchdown. At season's end, the 12-4 Jaguars took the No. 5 playoff seed in the AFC, while the 11-5 Steelers wound up with the No. 6 seed. Had Pittsburgh won that game in October, their first playoff game might have been in New England against the Patriots, the only team to beat Roethlisberger twice. Instead, the Jaguars were the ones beheaded in Foxboro. The Steelers, meanwhile, drew the Bengals in the opening round, and they were off and rolling. Just as important as who Pittsburgh played in the playoffs was where they played. The Steelers had been awful at home in the postseason for a decade. If any team could ever benefit from three road playoff games, it would be the 2005 Steelers. Indeed, coming into the playoffs as the bottom seed put Pittsburgh in a no-lose position. Unlike most years, no one expected them to win. No one, that is, but the boys in black and gold ... especially an old gunslinger by the name of Maddox.

Tommy Maddox's pedestrian play in 2003 made Pittsburgh's bright future possible. Tommy Maddox's bum elbow in 2004 brought that future into focus. And Tommy Maddox's awful decision-making in 2005 made that future a reality. Scorn him all you want, Pittsburgh. But you owe him.

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