From Liz Mullen, Sports Business Journal:
For 18 years, Ben Roethlisberger talked to his agent Ryan Tollner after every single NFL game he played. Sometimes Tollner would go to the game and they would talk afterward. Sometimes the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback would call him.
“They could be 30 seconds to 20 minutes, depending,” Tollner, CEO of Rep 1 Sports, said of the calls. “We’re talking about a lot of football games over 18 years.”
The conversation would always start with Tollner inquiring about Roethlisberger’s health. Roethlisberger retired with many records, including being sacked 554 times — the most of any quarterback in the NFL — while leading the Steelers to the playoffs 11 times and winning two Super Bowls.
So it was with mixed emotions that Tollner watched Roethlisberger’s last game, in cold Kansas City, losing to the Chiefs in a game the quarterback had publicly predicted the Steelers had no chance to win.
“I’m happy for him that it’s ended on his terms, in a sense,” Tollner said. “He was able to play his entire career for the Steelers and he is walking away from the game healthy, relatively healthy. And that he has been recognized pretty widely here in the sports world for being one of the all-time greats and a true warrior.”
Roethlisberger retired with the fifth most passing yards in NFL history, fifth most wins as an NFL quarterback, and one of three quarterbacks — along with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning — to have both thrown for 50,000 yards and won at least two Super Bowls.
Still, watching that Sunday night game was bittersweet for Tollner. “It was a sad night, I guess, to see him move down the field on the final drive knowing, ‘This is it. This is the last pass we are going to see him throw.’”
Tollner, himself, played backup quarterback at Cal before becoming an agent, which may be one reason why he and Roethlisberger became so close. Roethlisberger told Sports Business Journal in 2016 that he thinks of Tollner as a friend, not an agent.
Don’t look for Roethlisberger to take up coaching or broadcasting or other common paths taken by famous retired athletes, at least not in the near term, Tollner said. “I don’t think he has any aspirations to do anything in the public eye. He is so invested in his family and being as present to them as he can be.”
Roethlisberger is also working on something with his father to give back to people on a personal basis. “He and his dad are working on a plan to host some father-and-son retreats on some land they own outside of Pittsburgh that will be very faith-centered and really try to enrich the bond between fathers and sons,” Tollner said.
Tollner will miss his after-the-game breakdowns with Roethlisberger. “If I wasn’t at the game, he would call me on his drive home or on the bus. We would discuss how the game went. You know, oftentimes, he’d want my assessment either of his play or the overall game. And we’d usually talk specific plays.”
Asked if they discussed interceptions he threw or wide receivers who were open that he missed, Tollner said, “Oh, yeah.”
Roethlisberger wanted honesty and an outside perspective, which is something Tollner said he was grateful to provide for 18 years.
“I believe the X factor for athletes is confidence,” Tollner said. “I really take seriously my role in building and protecting their confidence.
“The rest of the world is trying to tear them down and convince them they’re not good enough. So, for me, it’s helping to shape some perspective that keeps them going and puts them in their zone to concentrate and perform and play their best.”
You can read more from Mr. Tollner’s interview here.
Photo: Mr. Tollner