Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger cut from the same cloth

Giants quarterback Eli Manning (no. 10) directs his Giants quarterback Eli Manning (no. 10) directs his team against the Oakland Raiders. (Nov. 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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It all seemed so tenuous at the time. A triangle of talented quarterbacks, all of them first-round talents, all of them unsure where they would be landing when the day was over.

For Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger, not only did they wind up with their respective teams on that April day in 2004 but nearly 10 full years later, they're still playing for them.

In a league in which change is inevitable and careers can have the lifespan of a commercial break, the three players who headed the quarterback class have made it pretty clear that in retrospect, there might not have been any wrong answers.

This wasn't a Peyton Manning-Ryan Leaf situation in which one pick blossomed into a future Hall of Famer and the other never amounted to anything. And it's not like the 1983 draft, which was so deep at quarterback that six of them were taken in the first round and four of them played in Super Bowls.

If they have a close relative in recent draft history, it's the 2012 class, which featured Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III going first and second and Russell Wilson being selected in the third round.

In the case of Manning-Rivers-Roethlisberger, the three of them not only have had productive careers but have altered each others' trajectories.

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"There are certain guys or certain positions and certain things that you're always linked to," Rivers said this past week, just a few days before his second game ever against Manning and the Giants. "I know for the three of us being in that draft class and how everything went down that there's always going to be the comparisons and such. I don't know that I follow them so much to see where I stack up against them, but more so just they're guys that you know you're going to be linked to forever."

They not only are linked but very well could have been living alternate lives for the last decade.

It's been well-documented that the Giants -- and former general manager Ernie Accorsi in particular -- were enamored of Manning, but he already had been selected by the Chargers with the first overall pick. Had the Giants not been close to finalizing a deal to acquire Manning, they likely would have selected Roethlisberger with the No. 4 overall selection. Instead, they chose Rivers and swiftly dealt him to the Chargers. That left the Steelers to pick Roethlisberger.

A few twists of fate, a slow decision or two, and it could have been Manning as a Charger, Roethlisberger as a Giant and Rivers as a Steeler.

"I remember Ernie Accorsi making that deal, of being 100 percent in belief that this was the right thing to do for our franchise," Tom Coughlin said while recalling his first draft as coach of the Giants. "I remember that Ernie had studied Eli since he was a freshman in college and had really a strong, strong feeling about him. I remember the fact that he had the confidence and the constitution, if you will, to push the deal through. It wasn't an easy deal to make."

Ultimately, the Giants got the player they desired.

"It was a move that [Accorsi] made with great conviction," Coughlin said. "Philip Rivers has had an outstanding career in San Diego and Eli Manning has had an outstanding career here, so I think you have a win-win situation there."

That's easy for him to say. He won-won two Super Bowls with Manning. And the Steelers have won a pair with Roethlisberger and played in a third.

The Chargers haven't been to the big game. And for now, that's the glaring difference that separates the trio of quarterbacks.

"I think the goal of every quarterback is to help lead your team to win a championship, to get to the top of the mountain," Rivers said. "I think it gets over-said that 'this guy's got a ring.' It's not really about that . . . not so you can say that got you in this category or this club or this deal."

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Manning didn't sound as if he'd be too upset if Rivers eventually does join the club.

"Ben and Philip, all three of us have had good careers and been in the same spot for 10 years, which you don't always see," he said. "I definitely have kept up with all of those guys, got to know them some and talk to them. You're kind of proud of your own class. You kind of hope your class will go down as a good class of quarterbacks and players."

Coughlin may have called it a "win-win" trade, but what does Rivers -- the pawn in the move, the quarterback the Giants selected but never really wanted and didn't even talk to on draft day -- think about it?

"I hope our organization feels the same way," he said. "I know that I'm thankful that I've been here 10 years and I know my family has grown quite a bit in my time here and we're thankful for being here. I certainly can say it's been a win for those guys in New York. Eli's led them to two championships and has had a heck of a career."

Not that either of them is comparing.

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Which of the three is the best quarterback? "People will be able to debate that after we're done playing," Manning said. "I'm sure they debate it now. That's not for me to get into."

Said Rivers, "With the '04 draft class, they're going to talk about who did what and who did this, and it's not something that necessarily motivates you, but it's something that you're aware of.

"I've got a great deal of respect for Eli and what he's done and the quarterback he is and the player he is, but it's not like, 'What did he do this week?' or 'What [will] he do next week?' There's too many more things important than to get caught up in that."

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