Big Ben, Browns and a touchstone moment

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
12:14
PM ET
The Pittsburgh Steelers always provide the Cleveland Browns a measuring stick.

Roethlisberger
One way to measure is to realize that the Steelers have had Ben Roethlisberger starting at quarterback since he was a first-round draft pick in 2004.

How that happened constantly provides the Browns with a nightmare memory of one of those touchstone moments when the entire course of two franchises could have changed based on one decision.

Butch Davis was coach of the Browns then, and the team was coming off a 5-11 season in which Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb each started eight games.

Davis started the 2003 season with Holcomb, based mainly on his 400-yard plus playoff performance in Pittsburgh the season before -- a game Couch missed with a broken leg.

But Holcomb broke his leg in '03 on a quarterback sneak in San Francisco -- a break Davis called "a teeny, tiny break in a non-weight bearing bone."

Couch and Holcomb see-sawed back and forth until Holcomb threw a couple of interceptions in a Monday night loss to St. Louis. After that game, Davis called Couch in his office and told him he was his quarterback for years to come.

The Browns had the seventh pick in the first round. The front office wanted tight end Kellen Winslow or wide receiver Roy Williams. Davis tried to trade up for safety Sean Taylor, but after initially saying yes to the deal the Giants changed their mind and instead swapped Philip Rivers for Eli Manning.

San Diego and New York both found their quarterback.

Davis never really considered Roethlisberger -- even though he had thrown for more than 10,000 yards at Miami of Ohio and even though he grew up in Findlay, Ohio.

Davis privately told people he simply was not a Roethlisberger guy.

The Browns coach favored one of two kinds of players: Guys he recruited and signed to the University of Miami, and guys he tried to recruit.

Winslow and Taylor fit the profile; Roethlisberger was from the MAC and didn’t.

The Browns wound up trading up one spot in the draft to get Winslow and gave up a second-round pick to do it.

Roethlisberger went to the Steelers at No. 11. He went on to win Rookie of the Year and take the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game in his first season. He eventually won two Super Bowls.

The Browns signed Jeff Garcia, cut Couch (the quarterback for years to come) and went 4-12 in '04 only because Holcomb started the last game and won it.

They are still looking for their quarterback.

In a draft in which three franchises found quarterbacks who are still starting for the teams that drafted or dealt for them on draft day, the Browns got a tight end and traded a second-round pick to move up one spot for him.

Since the Steelers drafted Roethlisberger in 2004, the Browns took two other quarterbacks in the first round (Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden) and two in the third round (Charlie Frye and Colt McCoy). They may take another in 2014.

Since the Manning-Rivers-Roethlisberger draft, the Browns have used 17 starting quarterbacks. And in games Roethlisberger has started against the Browns, the Steelers are 15-1.

Pat McManamon

ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter

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