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Big Ben makes it official

Ben Roethlisberger's NFL career is over. 

The longtime Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback announced his retirement on Thursday, saying it was “time to clean out my locker, hang up my cleats” after 18 years, two Super Bowls, countless team records and a spot in the Hall of Fame all but secure.

“I don’t know how to put into words what the game of football has meant to me and what a blessing it has been,” Roethlisberger, 39, said in a video message. “But I know with confidence I have given my all to the game, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for what it has given me.”

The much-anticipated decision came less than two weeks after Pittsburgh's lopsided loss to Kansas City in the first round of the postseason, the 12th time in Roethlisberger's career the Steelers reached the playoffs.

He hinted before his final game at Heinz Field that it was time for him to move on and spend more time with his wife, Ashley, and their three children and made it a point to embrace the moment following a Monday night win over the Browns on Jan. 3, doing a victory lap of sorts before disappearing down the tunnel surrounded by his family.

Roethlisberger called the journey from a kid growing up in Ohio to the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft to a likely future Hall of Famer “exhilarating," but he added he is retiring “a truly grateful man.”

One who leaves behind a legacy of winning. The Steelers never endured a losing season during Roethlisberger's tenure and captured Super Bowls 40 and 46 — the latter coming on a now-iconic touchdown pass over the outstretched hands of three Arizona defenders to Santonio Holmes in the back corner of the end zone.

“Putting that jersey on every Sunday with my brothers, will always be one of the greatest joys of my life,” he said.

Roethlisberger's personal journey, unlike his professional one, was more complicated. He wasn't wearing a helmet when broke his jaw and his nose i n a motorcycle crash in 2006 shortly after becoming the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl.

He was twice accused of sexual assault, once in 2009 and again in 2010. A civil case filed against him stemming from an alleged incident at Lake Tahoe in 2009 was settled out of court. A woman in Georgia alleged he assaulted her at a bar in March 2010 but prosecutors did not formally charge him.

The NFL suspended him for the start of the 2010 season for violating the league's personal conduct policy. He returned to lead the Steelers to the Super Bowl, a loss to Green Bay.

The second half of his career hinted at his evolution both as a player and as a person. Known more for his rugged “Ben being Ben” approach to the game during his 20s, he morphed into one of the league's premier passes in his 30s. He twice led the league in yards passing and retires in the all-time top 10 in yards passing and touchdown passes.

Broncos hire Hackett

Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has agreed to become the Denver Broncos' new head coach.

He replaces Vic Fangio, who was fired a day after the Broncos finished 7-10, their sixth consecutive season out of the playoffs and fifth straight year they've failed to post a winning record.

Hackett, 42, brings energy and enthusiasm to a franchise that has foundered ever since winning Super Bowl 50 six years ago.

Might he also bring No. 12 with him from Green Bay?

Choosing Hackett sent speculation skyrocketing that the Broncos were trying to lure star Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers to Denver, perhaps along with his star receiver Davante Adams, who is set to hit free agency in March.

Rodgers, who turned 38 last month in what could be his fourth MVP season, is contemplating his future, including retirement, after the Packers' early exit from the playoffs last weekend. Top-seeded Green Bay was upset at home 13-10 by the San Francisco 49ers.

The Packers want Rodgers to return for an 18th season, saying they had no plays for a rebuild. Rodgers, who skipped all of last year's offseason before reporting for training camp with a reworked contract, said he'll give the team an answer soon.

Hackett, 42, emerged as the front-runner on his own merits, however, which includes his work with quarterback Blake Bortles as Jacksonville's offensive coordinator from 2016-18 before he went to Green Bay and helped Matt LaFleur win a record 39 regular-season games in his first three seasons as head coach.

Hackett, who has never been a head coach, has become well known for his football smarts, his energy and his enthusiasm. Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling tweeted: "One of the absolute best human beings and smartest coaches around. Man this makes my heart happy seeing great people get rewarded. I wish my guy nothing but the absolute best."

Hackett also has a big fan in Rodgers, who said in 2020 that "there's nobody in the building that brings me more joy or is more fun to be around than Nathaniel Hackett," whom he called "a close confidant and friend besides a fantastic coach."

"I just really, really can't express enough how important he is to our team in so many ways. He's incredible in front of the room. He brings a lot of great energy" to meetings that can be tedious, Rodgers said. "Never feels that way with him in front of the room. ... I think he's got a great mind."

Rodgers and Hackett, who is the son of former college and NFL coach Paul Hackett, connected quickly over their shared background in and affinity for the West Coast offense with its quick crossing routes.

Bears will hire Eberflus

Indianapolis defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is the new head coach of the Chicago Bears, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press, tasked with turning around a franchise mired in mediocrity for much of the past decade.

The person confirmed the move to the AP on condition of anonymity because there had been no announcement by the Bears.

Eberflus has spent the past four years as Indianapolis' defensive coordinator, helping turn around a unit that ranked among the league's worst. The Colts ranked eighth on defense in 2020, though they slipped to 16th this season.

Indianapolis missed the playoffs at 9-8, closing with two straight losses when a win in either game would have clinched a postseason berth.

The hire is the first big move for new Bears general manager Ryan Poles, who took over on Tuesday. Poles and Eberflus are first-timers in their respective positions in the NFL.

The Bears fired general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy after a 6-11 season, hoping new leadership will lift a struggling franchise. They brought in Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian to lead a five-person search team that also included chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips.

The first big question for Eberflus is his offensive coordinator, since a big part of the job for the new coach and GM will be solidifying the quarterback position that has haunted the founding NFL franchise for decades.

That likely means figuring out a way to get the most out of Justin Fields and surrounding him with the cast to help him develop. The former Ohio State star had a shaky rookie season, though he also showed potential.

Eberflus, a former linebacker at the University of Toledo who began his coaching career at his alma mater and hometown school, also interviewed for head coaching jobs last year after his third season with Indy, where he developed a reputation for demanding relentless effort out of his players.

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