A Batch full of success

By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
April 29, 2013

First, longtime offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was gone after the 2011 season, pushed out by Steelers president Art Rooney II. Now, backup quarterback Charlie Batch is gone, too, finished after 11 seasons with his hometown Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger isn't quite sure what to expect when the team gathers later this spring for offseason workouts. Batch was with him in the quarterbacks meeting room every day since Roethlisberger joined the Steelers as a No. 1 draft choice in 2004.

"It's definitely not going to be the same," Roethlisberger said. "Charlie and I always sat next to each other. I'm going to miss the laughs and the talks that we had. I owe so much to him."

Roethlisberger was quick to interrupt his round of golf Sunday in Georgia and jump on the telephone to pay tribute to Batch, who became expendable when the Steelers selected Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones Saturday in the fourth round of the NFL draft. Veteran Bruce Gradkowski, who was signed as a free agent in March, will be the team's other quarterback.

"I feel like I could go on for hours about Charlie," Roethlisberger said. "He meant so much to me. I told him numerous times, 'You made me what I am today.' From on the field to off the field, as a quarterback and as a man. He truly is one of the best guys I've ever been around."

One of the most poignant moments in an otherwise disappointing 8-8 season in 2012 was an injured Roethlisberger hugging Batch on the sideline Dec. 2 in Baltimore after Batch led the Steelers to an unlikely 23-20 win against the team that would go on to win Super Bowl XLVII. Both had tears in their eyes. You could see their bond. You could feel the emotion between them.

"He just thanked me for all my support and I thanked him for all his support," Batch said. "We both knew he was coming back the next week. At that moment, I think we both realized that game could possibly be it for me in the NFL."

Batch couldn't have asked for a better farewell. He had played poorly a week earlier in a 20-14 loss at Cleveland with Roethlisberger out with chest and rib injuries and second-teamer Byron Leftwich down with a rib problem. Batch wanted one more chance. He didn't want to end his career with a three-interception game against the Browns.

"I knew I had to play better," Batch said. "I don't think anyone thought we'd get the ball at the end of the game on our 15, drive it 61 yards on the road against that defense, take 6:14 off the clock and kick the winning field goal to silence 70,000 people. But we did it. That's kind of the approach I took my whole career. Seize the moment."

Batch went 6-3 as the Steelers starter when Roethlisberger was out. He led two midseason wins against Green Bay and Cleveland in the team's Super Bowl season in 2005. He threw three touchdown passes in a season-opening win against Miami in 2006, including one that went for 87 yards to tight end Heath Miller. He threw three more in a win in 2010 at Tampa Bay.

"When my number was called, I wanted to keep the ship moving," Batch said. "I always took great pride in that. I always made sure I knew the playbook even better than Ben."

Batch's role with the Steelers was so much more than just as a backup quarterback.

"He was always the very first guy I talked to when I came off the field," Roethlisberger said. "I'd ask him, 'What did you see?' I valued his opinion more than any other player or coach. And that's no disrespect to anyone else. It's just what I thought of Charlie. He never tried to impose himself on me. But he was always there when I needed him."

Batch was the ultimate NFL survivor. The Steelers drafted quarterbacks Brian St. Pierre in 2003 and Dennis Dixon in 2008, but neither lasted long. It looked as if Batch would be released before the 2010 season -- "I was the odd man out. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see that," he said -- but Leftwich went down with a knee injury in the final exhibition game. Batch ended up helping the Steelers to Super Bowl XLV after that season and played two more years.

But Batch won't survive the drafting of Jones. He said he's not bitter but rather thankful to the Rooneys and to general manager Kevin Colbert for giving him a chance "to live out my dream ... I'm the only guy born and raised in Pittsburgh who played for the Steelers and won two Super Bowls."

Batch, from Homestead, said he thinks the selection of Jones goes "much deeper than what's on the surface ...

"Maybe they weren't happy with what they had behind Ben and Bruce. That could be. But ultimately, I think this isn't about replacing me. Big picture, maybe they're thinking, 'Can we develop Landry Jones to be the starter? Maybe two years from now, he could be our guy for the next 10 years.' We don't know. But with the contracts for quarterbacks these days, he'd certainly be a heck of a lot cheaper than Ben at age 34 or 35 or 36."

Batch will continue to live in Pittsburgh and run his Best of the Batch Foundation, which has helped more than 1,000 financially challenged girls and boys, ages 7-18, since he started it 12 years ago. A total of 365 young people will take part in the four-day-a-week program that will run for seven weeks this summer in Homestead.

"The work we've done is phenomenal, but we still have so much more to do," Batch said. "We've touched so many people, but there are so many more out there who need help. We'll keep trying to make our community better. We're always trying to push kids beyond their expectations."

In Super Bowl week in February, Batch won the NFL's Byron "Whizzer" White Man of the Year Award, which goes to the player who best serves his team, community and country. You could argue it is his sport's highest honor.

Leave it to Batch to put it all into perspective.

"I want to be remembered more for what I'm doing off the field than what I did on it."

Mission accomplished.