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Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger practices

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Charlie Batch stood in the huddle, so intent on hearing Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' instructions through the speaker in his helmet the veteran backup quarterback couldn't hear the Heinz Field crowd pay tribute during last week's 27-0 romp over St. Louis.

It wasn't until one of his teammates tapped Batch on the shoulder that the chants of "Char-lie! Char-lie" registered.

"People were telling me later they could hear it through their TV," Batch said. "I was like, `really, OK, pretty good."

Actually, better than that.

Batch was his usual efficient, reliable self against the Rams, passing for 208 yards and showing there's plenty of life left in his 37-year-old legs, extending several plays that turned into big gains as the Steelers (11-4) kept their hopes of an AFC North title alive.

The Pittsburgh native improved to 5-2 while subbing for starter Ben Roethlisberger through the years, earning praise from coach Mike Tomlin and turning Roethlisberger into one of the world's tallest -- and most handsomely paid -- cheerleaders.

When the fans started chanting Batch's name, Roethlisberger joined in. It's the least he could do for one of his closest friends.

"For an old man ... making people miss in the pocket and doing some great things, I was really happy for him and happy for the team," said Roethlisberger, who dressed but did not play so he could rest his badly sprained left ankle. "He did a great job."

So good the Steelers might let Roethlisberger watch from the sideline again on Sunday when they close the regular season against woeful Cleveland (4-11). Pittsburgh can still win the AFC North with a victory and a loss by the Ravens in Cincinnati.

Though Batch is openly rooting for Roethlisberger to start, and while Roethlisberger took snaps with the first team in practice on Wednesday, the veteran's steady performance against the Rams calmed any doubts he can keep the Steelers competitive.

"Charlie likes to chuck it," wide receiver Antonio Brown said. "You know he wants to get it out of there and let us go to work."

The same as it ever was for Batch, who spent the spring helping the NFL Players Association negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement then spent training camp wondering if he'd have a job when the season started.

Batch and Dennis Dixon battled for the third quarterback spot behind Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich during the preseason only to move up the depth chart after Leftwich went out with a broken right arm in an exhibition game.

It wasn't the way Batch envisioned keeping a roster spot. Then again, he's been around so long -- Batch is the oldest player on a team full of guys on the other side of 30 -- he's no longer concerned about how he makes the team so long as he does.

By Batch's count, this summer was the third -- or is it fourth? -- time his career was supposed to be over. Yet he remains employed and effective.

The player who deftly avoided blitzing linebackers and methodically moved the Steelers up and down the field looked an awful lot like the one considered a solid starter while playing with the Detroit Lions around the turn of the millennium.

Things soured in the Motor City in 2001 after he went 0-9 on a team rife with problems all over the place. With no starting jobs open, he signed with the Steelers in 2002. He didn't get another start until 2005, when he went 2-0 while filling in for Roethlisberger, helping the Steelers earn a wild card berth in a season that ended with the franchise's fifth Super Bowl title.

Batch nods slowly when asked why he didn't try to go somewhere else rather than spending the better part of a decade rarely playing behind one of the league's most durable and talented quarterbacks.

He understands there have been starting quarterbacks in the league over the past 10 years that lack his credentials. Yet the timing never seemed right and besides, he's not the kind of player that's going to beg to be let go so he can look for a starting job somewhere else.

"You don't really want to try to force your way out of it because they don't have to grant you that release," Batch said. "So it's like don't fight it. You've agreed upon it so it's almost like just hang in there and do your job."

It's that lack of ego and sense of place that's made Batch among the most respected players in the locker room. He worked diligently as a member of the NFLPA's executive committee as a new CBA was hammered out. He brings the same approach to practice. It's why he's always ready even though he sometimes goes months if not years between snaps.

That attention to detail isn't lost on Roethlisberger. He knows Batch could have left at some point and tried to become a starter somewhere else. Batch's commitment to his hometown has netted him two Super Bowl rings and status as the franchise's elder statesman.

"A lot of guys would have chased a paycheck," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "Charlie could have done that. But this is home for him. He's happy here. He's involved in the community and this is a great organization to play for."

Even, Batch knows, if you got years without playing much at all.