PITTSBURGH (AP) -Eli or Ben? Ben or Eli?
Four and a half years since the NFL draft initially didn't please either Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger - a day filled with drama, hurt feelings, veiled warnings, a hurried-up trade and damaged egos - things couldn't have worked out much better for both. Or for their two division-leading teams, each of whom has since won a Super Bowl.
When Manning's New York Giants (5-1) play Roethlisberger's Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1) on Sunday, it will be the first matchup between Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks from the same draft class since Joe Montana's 49ers beat fellow Class of '79 alum Phil Simms' Giants 7-3 on Dec. 3, 1990.
Even if, according to Manning, the only thing he and Roethlisberger will have in common is that each plays on the same field on the same day.
``Ben and I are not competing against each other,'' Manning said.
ntil, as Roethlisberger said, one or the other no longer plays.
``There's always that little thing inside of you that wants to be the best, so I've got to get another Super Bowl before he does,'' Roethlisberger said.
There have been only three sets of QBs from the same draft class to win Super Bowls - Jim Plunkett and Joe Theismann (1971) formed the other - but none won rings as quickly as the two current quarterbacks. Roethlisberger got his in his second season, Manning in his fourth.
How they got there involves a complicated scenario that triggers debate to this day.
Manning, as expected, went No. 1 in that 2004 draft to San Diego. He made it clear through father Archie Manning, himself a former NFL star, he didn't want to play there. That allowed the Giants, choosing No. 4, to take QB Philip Rivers and package him in a trade with the Chargers.
That disappointed Roethlisberger, who felt Manning's selection created an opening for the Giants to take him. When New York went with Rivers instead, Roethlisberger's former coach at Miami of Ohio, the late Terry Hoeppner, angrily tossed his cell phone, knocking over a water bottle in full view of TV cameras.
The Giants were prepared to draft Roethlisberger if they couldn't work out the Manning trade. Of course, they did.
until he arrived in Pittsburgh to find a ready-to-win team that could absorb a brand-new quarterback's mistakes and still be successful.
Roethlisberger won like no brand-new quarterback before him, going 13-0 during the 2004 regular season. A season later he won the Super Bowl, leading an eight-game winning streak that included four away from Pittsburgh wins during the playoffs.
Manning's start wasn't nearly as good - New York was 6-10 in 2004, with Manning going 1-6 - and the Giants were repeatedly second-guessed for not taking Roethlisberger. That debate continued until Manning led them to an on-the-road playoff journey last season that was similar to the '05 Steelers' title run, one that ended with an improbable Super Bowl win over the previously unbeaten Patriots.
Only then did Manning stop hearing the Giants should have taken Roethlisberger.
Statistically, Roethlisberger still owns a perceptible edge. He has a better record than Manning (44-17 to 35-26), more TD passes (93 to 85), plus a better passer rating (93.0 to 74.9). And there are NFL scouts who will argue Roethlisberger is more important to the Steelers than Manning is to the Giants.
But the Giants love how Manning, perhaps because of the career-log scrutiny he has undergone due to his last name and his older brother Peyton, has stood up to the media pressure in the 24-hour-a-day news cycle of New York.
fans, by comparison, have tolerated a bit of immaturity at times from Roethlisberger. Such as his stubborn reluctance to wear a motorcycle helmet, which led to a serious accident in 2006. That might not have played as well in New York.
There was no college rivalry, even if both played in Oxford - Manning in Oxford, Miss., Roethlisberger in Oxford, Ohio. They've met only a few times, and each said he has no relationship with the other.
``I really don't know those guys (Manning and Rivers) that well to call them up and talk about who's won this many or that many,'' Roethlisberger said. ``Obviously, he (Manning) has done a good job. You never hear anything negative about him.''
What is often overlooked is how Manning's first and only game until now against Roethlisberger began to shape his career.
During a 33-30 Steelers win at the Meadowlands late in the 2004 season, Manning displayed his talent in the NFL for the first time. He was 16-of-23 for 182 yards and two touchdowns and came close to ending a 12-game Steelers winning streak that, by the playoffs, stretched into a 15-game run.
So, just as Roethlisberger can thank the Giants for altering his career, Manning can do the same with the Steelers.
finally played decent for the first time and managed the game well and made some big plays. At the time it was important for me and my confidence, and the confidence of my teammates.''
Confidence is something neither quarterback will lack Sunday in an important game matching two of the NFL's best teams.
``They've stood tall and accepted whatever challenge was thrown their way,'' Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. ``They have each in their own right made outstanding contributions to the game and their franchises.''

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