Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger grow legacy of 2004 NFL Draft

Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger are introduced before Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger are introduced before the start of the NFL draft in New York. Photo Credit: AP, 2004

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Since the first three quarterbacks picked in the 2004 NFL Draft don't get to see one another too often -- certainly not Eli Manning, the No. 1 pick, and No. 11 pick Ben Roethlisberger, who play in different conferences -- a meeting like Sunday's between the Steelers and Giants is cause for reflection and consideration of that momentous April day eight years ago, when the fortunes of three franchises changed in a profound way.

The Chargers may not believe they got the best of the deal that sent Manning to the Giants since Philip Rivers has only helped them get as far as an AFC Championship Game, but it's a fierce debate between folks in Pittsburgh and New York as to who's better off, and it's a razor-thin margin between Manning and Roethlisberger, who have two Super Bowl rings apiece.

"I think early on for me it was more wanting to do better than him and, I don't want to say animosity, but he was the No. 1 pick and I think as a guy that's not picked No. 1 or anytime someone is picked ahead of you, you want to beat that guy out," Roethlisberger said on a conference call Wednesday. "But as I've gotten older, it's more neat to see his success, to see him getting two Super Bowls because I think it just adds to the legacy of our draft class and all four quarterbacks -- Matt Schaub (taken 90th by the Falcons), Philip (4th), myself and Eli -- that were drafted there. I hope that we can play well enough that one day they talk about us as maybe the best quarterback draft class of all-time."

Roethlisberger had success first, piloting the Steelers to the Super Bowl XL crown in his second season. However, they've gotten on more equal footing over the years; Sunday will be just the third meeting between them and first in East Rutherford since Big Ben led the Steelers to a 33-30 win over Eli in 2004, when both were rookies.

"The big thing is I think it's a fair assessment to call both of them winners," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Both guys have been to the big dance and delivered. That's what that position, particularly, is about. I think both guys have a keen understanding of that and are motivated by that."

They're both starting to develop traits the other has perfected as well: Roethlisberger credited Manning's escapability and ability to extend plays, which is Roethlisberger's specialty. "He doesn't get enough credit for that," Roethlisberger said.

Big Ben is being called upon to throw more with injuries to Steelers running backs and has started to deliver, with the Steelers having won three of four coming into Sunday.

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Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Roethlisberger, "He has been well protected, he has not been hit nearly as much, nor is he forcing anything."

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