He knew it and his fans knew it, too. Ben Roethlisberger's time as a professional football player was coming to an end.
At what would be his final home game after 18 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the star quarterback experienced something most athletes only dream of — the pure unadulterated outpouring of love from fans that had been with him from the start.
Right back at them went the love from Big Ben.
"My family and I are overwhelmed with the love and support we have received around last night's game. We are truly grateful for every one of you," he posted on his Twitter account.
It was common knowledge that Ben had restructured his contract before the start of the season in order to remain in the game for one last stretch before his retirement.
It's official now.
"The time has come to clean out my locker, hang up my cleats and continue to be all I can be to my wife and children," Ben said in a video posted on Twitter.
"I retire from football a truly grateful man," he added.
Since being drafted 11th overall in 2004, he remained loyal to the Steelers for his entire career; this in an age of free agency where fans watch players bounce from one team to another.
And what a career he has had.
Ben won the Rookie of the Year award in his first year, made the Pro Bowl six times, and led the Steelers to 165 regular season wins, eight division titles, and three Super Bowls, winning two. That's Pro Football Hall of Fame level legacy.
After he is retired for the requisite five seasons, he will most likely be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 2013, after overcoming off-field issues that scuffed up his reputation, Ben had a turn around in which he won the most prestigious honor the NFL bestows — the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award — which focuses on virtuous activities of players in the league while off the field.
His charitable activities continue to make a difference in his community and the world at large.
He demonstrated for everyone what his priorities are as he walked through the stadium tunnel for the last time, accompanied by his wife, Ashley, and three children Bodie, Baylee, and Ben Jr.
What everyone saw was a man who is more than a winning athlete. He walks the walk of a truly devoted husband and father.
As he stated in a 2013 interview, "I'm putting all my energy into being the best person, best husband and best father I can be."
His commitment to family has a great deal to do with his religious faith. After his team's final game of the season, the AFC's wild card playoff game, Ben invoked God in talking about what was to come next in his life.
He said something you don't hear too often from celebrities or otherwise. He shared that he was going to "try to expand God's kingdom."
He grew up in the Christian tradition and in 2017 made a recommitment to his faith.
During a June 2020 Man Up Conference, he explained why he chose to be baptized for a second time.
"I was baptized as a kid; my parents took me as a baby. But I didn't make that decision. So three years ago now I made the decision to be baptized because I felt like I needed to do that. I wanted to have a closer walk, a better relationship with Jesus, with my wife, with my kids, with my family — become a better person," Ben said.
He had a message for young athletes about how his religious beliefs fit with his vocation.
"I want that to be known, especially to all you young men out there. It's cool to be a Christian and be an athlete. Go ahead and be the best athlete you can possibly be, and see if you can be a better Christian," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do now. I'm trying to be a better Christian than I am athlete and football player."
Like so many other Christians, he was led back to his faith heritage in the most beautifully mystical way.
"Jesus is the One who brought me back ... and I'm so thankful for it because I feel I'm a better Christian, a better husband and a better father today because of His forgiveness of me."
Seamlessness of faith and action is what makes us winners in life.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A. in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Read James Hirsen's Reports — More Here.
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