Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning are inextricably linked. Taken 11 picks apart in the 2004 NFL draft, the two quarterbacks have spent the last dozen years watching each other from afar, using the other's success as a measuring stick of their own accomplishments.
The resumes are nearly identical. Two Super Bowl victories. Four Pro Bowls apiece. A steady ascension into the upper stratosphere of the NFL record books. Both are already in the top 10 in career touchdown passes, with Roethlisberger on the cusp of joining Manning in the top 10 in all-time yards passing.
Just don't call it a rivalry.
When they take the same field for just the fourth time as professionals on Sunday when Manning and the streaking New York Giants (8-3) visit Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5), the focus will be on keeping pace in a frenetic playoff race, not trying to match each other's stats.
"I don't know if there is any extra motivation," Roethlisberger said. "Just trying to win a football game against one of the best teams in football should be motivation enough."
In an alternate universe, Roethlisberger might have been the guy behind center wearing Big Blue.
For a few minutes during draft day in 2004, he thought he was heading to New York with the fourth overall pick. Instead, the Giants took Philip Rivers, then shipped Rivers to San Diego as part of a megadeal that sent Manning — the top overall pick — to New York. Roethlisberger, wearing a black pinstriped suit with a gold tie, heard his name called a little over an hour later when Pittsburgh used a first-round pick on a quarterback for just the fifth time in franchise history.
He doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about what might have been. Neither does Manning. That's for others.
"You always want your quarterback draft class to be well thought of and respected down the road," Manning said. "You hear about the '83 draft class and other certain years. You want to be thrown in that mix someday."
Just not yet. Both in their mid-30s and signed through the rest of the decade. Maybe they'll reunite at the Hall of Fame one day, though Roethlisberger stressed "hopefully that's a long way off."