Not many people understand the Ben Roethlisberger–Mason Rudolph dynamic better than Tommy Maddox, a former starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers who graciously handled the handoff to the rookie Roethlisberger in 2004.
Fourteen years later, after Roethlisberger aired displeasure over the team’s selection of Rudolph in the third round, Maddox believes Roethlisberger might not owe it to Rudolph to mentor him but won’t shun him, either.
“I think Ben will treat him with respect,” Maddox told ESPN from his classroom at Decatur (Texas) High School, where he serves as the head baseball coach and is preparing for the playoffs. “His No. 1 goal is to get ready to play and help the team be successful.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say he owes it. That kind of gets into a little bit of a slippery slope. His job is to win football games right now. But, with that said, I think everybody in the locker room, the more it gets along, the better this team is going to be.”
Roethlisberger, 36, said on his radio show last week that he was surprised by the Rudolph selection over a player who “can help this team now.”
Asked about mentoring Rudolph, Roethlisberger said that won’t be necessary since Rudolph says he doesn’t need Big Ben. “If he asks me a question, I might just have to point to the playbook,” Roethlisberger said with a laugh, later acknowledging he would probably answer questions.
Rudolph — who told the media on draft night that it’s his job to learn and not up to Roethlisberger to teach him — was diplomatic in his response, telling NFL Network over the weekend he’d probably react the same way as Roethlisberger if in his position.
In Roethlisberger’s rookie year, Maddox entered the year as the starter but hurt his throwing arm in Week 2 against the Baltimore Ravens. Roethlisberger, the 11th overall pick that year, took over and the team never looked back.
This week, Sports Illustrated unearthed a Roethlisberger quote from 2005, as told to USA Today, praising Maddox’s role in the transition: “He’ll meet me halfway out on the field to answer a question for me. I owe so much of my success to his help.”
Maddox said he learned a lot from that experience and helped Roethlisberger because it was best for the team. But this situation, with a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback still playing at a high level, is a bit different.
“Everybody’s going to handle things differently. I’m not going to sit here and say I think Ben owes it to him to [mentor],” said Maddox, who played nine NFL seasons and won comeback player of the year in 2002 after stints in the XFL and AFL. “I think all of us, when you’re playing, you owe it to your teammates to be respectful and do what’s best for the team and all that.
“I don’t think it’s a situation where Ben owes it or that’s his job or whatever. But it is his job as a leader of the team to lead the team and make sure there’s no distractions and stuff like that. Stuff like that falls into two separate categories.”
Maddox, now 46, assumes Roethlisberger was simply responding to something that surprised him. The initial shock tends to fade when everyone comes to work, he said, but that doesn’t make the concept of quarterback mortality any easier to handle.
The Steelers have drafted quarterbacks in back-to-back years as insurance while Roethlisberger plays into his late 30s.
“Sooner or later your day will come and someone else will be playing,” Maddox said. “For many guys that’s hard to consider. But it’s coming eventually.”
On the other side, Maddox understands Rudolph’s predicament. He remembers John Elway’s unhappiness with the Denver Broncos‘ selection of Maddox with the 25th pick in the 1992 draft. He hoped for receiver help but got Maddox instead.
Rudolph must find a balance among excitement, embracing the challenge and fitting into a new locker room.
Advice for the rookie?
“Be yourself, go about your business, do the things that you need to do,”Maddox said. “Kind of control what you can.”