Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger: A Rivalry That Never Happened

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Dec 4, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) meet after their game at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning will not play in the Giants’ preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has ruled out quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Unless both teams make the Super Bowl, this will probably be the last time these quarterbacks will be on opposing sidelines. It’s a rather inauspicious end to a rivalry that never particularly seemed like one.

Manning and Roethlisberger are linked. They were both members of the celebrated? Quarterback Class of 2004. Manning, the son and brother of NFL quarterbacks, went first overall. Roethlisberger, a talented yet mercurial quarterback who played at a small school, was taken 11th.


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Manning, the 21st century version of John Elway, did not want to play for the then San Diego Chargers and with good reason. Roethlisberger was a quarterback the Giants had on their draft board before selecting Philip Rivers and sending him to San Diego in a trade for Manning.

Manning and Roethlisberger only played each other four times in their careers, with Big Ben’s Steelers holding a 3-1 edge. The two most successful quarterbacks in the Class of 2004 have collectively passed for 95,028 yards and 620 touchdowns. They also have four Super Bowl victories in five attempts or two more than the celebrated Quarterback Class of 1983.

Both quarterbacks own most of their respective franchise’s significant passing records.

Roethlisberger holds the edge in victories (123 to 108), quarterback rating (94.1 to 83.7), and completion percentage (64.1 to 59.7). Manning has thrown for more yards (48,218 to 46,814), more touchdowns (320 to 301), and that iron man record (Manning will make his 200th consecutive regular season start when the regular season opens).

Plaxico Burress caught passes from both Roethlisberger and Manning. He acknowledged both quarterbacks are headed to the Hall of Fame. When asked which quarterback he preferred, Plax naturally leaned toward the quarterback he won a Super Bowl with.

“I’m going to go with No. 10 because I know he’s going to put it up there in a nice spot for me to up there and get it,” Burress said. “And he’s going to give me that wink or signal, or he’s going to grab the side of his facemask, or pat his thigh, or pat the side of his helmet and give me the signal for the best route for me to get open.”

Manning and Roethlisberger have nothing but respect for one another.

“He’s got one of the most awesome iron man streaks going in never missing a game,” Roethlisberger said before the Giants and Steelers met in Week 13 last season. “That’s just so impressive to play this position for as long as he has. I think he’s one of the best in the business.”

“You always keep up with your draft class with Ben (and Phillip Rivers),” Manning said. “Don’t get to play against them a whole lot with them being in the AFC…Roethlisberger has had an incredible career.”

Roethlisberger, 35, expressed concern about the long-term effects of playing professional football before he committed to playing this season. Manning, 36, will eventually lose the battle with Father Time as all professional athletes (and human beings in general) do.

If Friday’s preseason game is truly the last time we see Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger on opposing sidelines, we can be appreciative of the greatness they showed on the field. At the same time, it would be nice if they could meet in Minneapolis on Feb. 4 to put a true exclamation point on a rivalry that never really seemed like one.

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