PITTSBURGH (AP) - Charlie Batch was convinced he could still do the job. He just didn’t know if he would have one.
A forgotten man on his own team, the 35-year-old quarterback was virtually ignored by the Steelers after Ben Roethlisberger became tangled in his off-field problems last spring. They traded for Byron Leftwich to take over Batch’s former job as backup, then relegated Batch to No. 4 on the depth chart behind the inexperienced Dennis Dixon, who had started only one NFL game.
Rather than complain about being shuffled off to a clipboard-carrying role, Batch didn’t request a trade. He didn’t demand an explanation about why his loyalty to the hometown team was being disregarded. He didn’t ask why the Steelers couldn’t find snaps for him even during training camp practices.
Good thing for the Steelers that Batch refused to go away, because a team that seemingly had too many quarterbacks found itself down to one healthy one last week. And that was the man they had all but refused to play.
Batch, starting only because of knee injuries to Leftwich and Dixon, ignored his own franchise’s lack of faith in him by playing with the polished poise of an athlete who isn’t overwhelmed by the situation or the opponent. Shaking off an interception on his first attempt, Batch completed 12 of 17 passes for 186 yards and his first three touchdowns since 2007 in leading the Steelers (3-0) to a 38-13 victory at Tampa Bay.
During a time when some pampered athletes don’t want to wait for days to play, much less weeks or months, Batch proved that years of rustiness aren’t necessarily an obstacle to success. Until Sunday, he had thrown only two passes since the final game in 2007, yet he performed as if he had been starting all season with touchdown throws of 46 and 41 yards to Mike Wallace and 9 yards to Hines Ward.
“Everyone in this locker room has confidence in Chuck,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “Even the first drive, when there was an interception, he did not let it rattle him. He just kept focused, and that’s what great players do.”
Batch understood why the Steelers brought back Leftwich, who had been the backup when Batch was hurt in 2008. He understood why they played Dixon, whose running ability gave the offense a different dimension. Still, he couldn’t help but get discouraged, especially when coach Mike Tomlin suggested his fragility _ he was hurt each of the last two seasons _ figured into the decision to drop him to the bottom of the depth chart.
“I dealt with the situation I was dealt with, so there was really nothing I could control, really no reason to complain,” Batch said Wednesday. “It was a matter of seeing how things played out. The way it was going, as you headed into the final preseason week, for me it was a little discouraging because I didn’t get the opportunities I would have liked in the preseason games.”
Since signing with Pittsburgh in 2002 after three-plus seasons of starting for Detroit, Batch has made only five starts while backing Kordell Stewart, Tommy Maddox and Roethlisberger _ winning four of them. He’ll start again Sunday against Baltimore (2-1), then give way as Roethlisberger returns from his suspension to reclaim his job.
If this is Batch’s last NFL start _ and, at his age, any one could be _ he wants to make it a good one. No doubt he’ll get a phone call and a text message of support from Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor beforehand.
Batch has been a mentor to Pryor for seven years, or since Pryor first played in the summertime youth basketball program and tournament Batch runs in his hometown of Homestead, Pa., a few miles from the Steelers’ practice complex.
Batch’s close ties to his community is one reason he rejected offers from other NFL teams over the years to remain a seldom-used backup in Pittsburgh. Batch’s youth program has been copied by other cities impressed by his ability to keep youngsters off the streets and involved in athletics.
“It’s an awesome lesson learned for our young players, one I hope they take heed to. This league is about perseverance, this profession is about perseverance, It’s about taking advantages of opportunities when they are given,” Tomlin said. “He’s given them a shining, clear-cut example of that at this juncture.”
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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