And With The 11th Selection - By Mark Mihalko

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

After arriving at Madison Square Garden a little after 4:30am Saturday to make sure I grabbed my wristband for a ticket to the NFL draft, I had over six hours to mingle with the thousands of rabid football fans that made the journey to the "Big Apple" for the event. There were your NY Jets fans debating over a linebacker or cornerback, your Oakland Raiders fans arguing over WR Roy Williams and his sub 4.4 speed or the dominating LT Robert Gallery and your NY Giants fans debating over Gallery or QB Eli Manning.

Then there were the hundreds of Pittsburgh Steelers fans that were patiently waiting. I was actually amazed by the number of Steelers fans in attendance. I honestly thought I was going to be in the minority when I arrived, but I soon discovered that next to the hometown Jets and Giants the Steelers probably had the biggest crowd present.

While walking around talking to my Steelers brethren one thing became crystal clear, we all had a different idea on what would or could happen. Ideas from trading down for OT Shawn Andrews to trading up for CB DeAngelo Hall were among the moves fans voiced most often. Sure you had your stay at number 11 and take QB Phillip Rivers or stay there and take WR Lee Evans, but the pick that I never heard mentioned was stay at 11 and pick QB Ben Roethlisberger.

It isn't that any of us in attendance didn't want the strong armed quarterback from the University of Miami Ohio; I don't think any of us thought it would be possible for us to grab him.

I for one thought for sure Big Ben would be gone in the top five selections, if not then he would surely be snatched by the hated Cleveland Browns with the seventh pick. I guess we were all wrong.

As the draft opened and the San Diego Chargers actually selected QB Eli Manning, you could almost feel the tension in the garden. Most NY Giants fans were either elated or disappointed.

Almost an hour into the draft when the Giants selected QB Phillip Rivers, I realized for the first time on Saturday that "Big Ben" may actually fall into our laps. Now he just had to fall past Cleveland.

When the Browns moronically traded their second-round pick to swap places with the Detroit Lions to select TE Kellen Winslow, the dream of the Steelers finally having a franchise quarterback was almost a reality.

Only four more selections to go before the Steelers are on the clock.

Number-seven WR Roy Williams, good.

Number-eight CB DeAngelo Hall, ouch, if we couldn't grab Roethlisberger he would have been my choice.

Number-nine WR Reggie Williams, WOW, I didn't see that one coming.

Now the critical pick, the Buffalo Bills were rumored to be willing to trade up for a quarterback and the Houston Texans might consider dropping down.

As the commissioner made his way to the podium you could see the Steelers fans all holding their breath with anticipation. With the tenth selection the HOUSTON TEXANS select CB Dunta Robinson. Amazingly the impossible happened and Roethlisberger was available. On a side note to this after seeing what Buffalo gave up to move up into the first round to select QB J.P Losman, I wonder what exactly they offered Houston, I can only imagine it was huge.

As the "Here we go Steelers" chat erupted throughout the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, you could also hear a chant of "Ben, Ben, Ben, Ben" mixed in with the roar of the crowd.

On the right-side of the stage on the mammoth television screen they were playing an interview with Roethlisberger when his phone rang. I remember hearing him say "yes coach, absolutely". When finished with the call he looked up and said "I am a Steeler" and the crowd, especially the Steelers fans erupted.

In a matter of minutes the commissioner made the walk once again. This time the impossible happened and we finally had our quarterback of the future.

With the 11th selection the Pittsburgh Steelers select QB Ben Roethlisberger from the University of Miami Ohio.

In some publications Roethlisberger was rated higher then Eli Manning, in fact almost every one of the publications say he has a better skill set and more potential then Manning. However, he doesn't have the name "Manning" and he didn't play for a major SEC program.

I say so what! Quarterbacks Chad Pennington (Marshall) and Byron Leftwitch (Marshall) have both proven that the smaller conferences can produce great quarterbacks. On the Steelers roster right now QB Charlie Batch was from a small conference and was very successful early in his career with the Detroit Lions.

The sky is the limit for our new signal caller; the coaching staff just has to approach it the right way.

The ripple effect of this selection has already started; incumbent starting QB Tommy Maddox has had a private meeting with Coach Bill Cowher to discuss his situation. Everyone knows that Maddox was the lowest paid starting quarterback in the NFL in 2003 and was again looking to renegotiate his contract this offseason, which may not be possible now.

However, I disagree. There is no way the Steelers will be able to carry four quarterbacks on their roster in 2004, so someone has to go. Everyone's first choice would probably be QB Brian St.Pierre who the Steelers drafted in the fifth round of last years draft. I know St. Pierre really didn't show much during training camp last season and clearly isn't a franchise quarterback, but he did flash some ability and may develop into a solid back-up. So that leaves Maddox or Batch.

While Coach Cowher has said there will be a competition for the starting position in training camp, one has to think that they will want to bring "Big Ben" around slowly. A practice that was very successful for the Tennessee Titans (Steve McNair) and the NY Jets (Chad Pennington).

If that is the case then I totally believe Charlie Batch will be the odd man out. The Steelers could extend Maddox's contract after trading or releasing Batch, paying Tommy like a starter in 2004 while adding playing time and performance incentives for the latter years of the deal.

The Rooney family and the Steelers organization have always proven that they are extremely loyal and almost always handle touchy situations with class and I don't see them changing their philosophy now.

Sure Ben Roethlisberger is our quarterback of the future, but Tommy Maddox is our quarterback of the present and deserves to be treated the right way. The Steeler Way.