Ben Roethlisberger admitted on his podcast that he rooted against then-rookie Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett at the beginning of the 2022 season. Pickett, who was a guest on the most recent episode of "Footbahlin with Ben Roethlisberger," replaced the 18-year veteran last season after Roethlisberger retired from the league and Pittsburgh drafted Pickett with the No. 20 pick a few months later.
"I'll be completely honest, I'll be super transparent here and I'm gonna get blasted," Roethlisberger said on his podcast. "I probably shouldn't say this, but who cares at this point. I wouldn't say that I wanted Kenny to necessarily fail, but when someone comes to replace you, I still feel like I had it, I hope he doesn't come ball out. Because then it's like, 'Ben who?'"
As a reminder, Roethlisberger won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2004, made six Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls during his time with the Steelers. He also ranks fifth all-time in career passing yards, eighth all-time in career passing touchdowns and tops Pittsburgh's franchise records in passing yards and passing touchdowns by wide margins. His career would be difficult to forget, especially after just one season.
"Early on I didn't want you to succeed because you followed me up — I didn't want it to happen," Roethlisberger told Pickett. "I think that's probably the selfishness of me, and I feel bad for it,"
Pickett, meanwhile, had an OK rookie season. He sat behind Mitchell Trubisky for the first three games before he entered a Week 4 game against the New York Jets. Pickett threw two interceptions and zero touchdowns but scored two rushing touchdowns in a 24-20 loss.
He started the next 12 games, went 7-5 and completed 63% of his passing attempts with 2,404 yards, seven touchdowns, nine interceptions and three rushing touchdowns. Pickett finished sixth in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. Not bad, but not Roethlisberger-level just yet.
But as Pickett's season progressed, Roethlisberger said he switched from hater to supporter and later called Pickett "the future of this team."
"I found myself rooting more and more for you," Roethlisberger said. "I wanted you to succeed, I wanted you to win games, I wanted you to go in the playoffs. I feel bad that I felt that early on, but I'm glad I transitioned to loving and rooting for you."
The Steelers hope Pickett can build on his rookie campaign after the team added three key pieces to the offense. Pittsburgh traded for downtrodden wide receiver Allen Robinson and drafted Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones in the first round and tight end Darnell Washington in the fourth round. Those three will join running back Najee Harris as well as wideouts Diontae Johnson and George Pickens.
It could be tough sledding for the young Steelers squad in a hard-nosed AFC North, but at least now Pickett has the full endorsement of Pittsburgh's most-decorated quarterback.