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Steelers vs. Giants highlighted by QBs

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 11:10 p.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger delivers a first-quarter pass Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger threw three touchdowns to propel the Steelers to a 27-12 win. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)

Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning are in a class by themselves.

The Steelers-Giants game Sunday at MetLife Stadium is important if only because it matches two opposing-conference teams that won four of the past seven Super Bowls. It is bigger still because of the quarterbacks who lead them.

In 25 years, it might be regarded as one of the marquee quarterback matchups ever.

Roethlisberger, 30, and Manning, 31, would appear to have years of football left in them, yet the co-members of the 2004 NFL draft class already have four Super Bowl rings and five Super Bowl appearances between them.

No other draft class produced two such quarterbacks, not even the 1983 class of John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.

Manning and Roethlisberger, known for their competitiveness, each acknowledged Wednesday he wants the other to do well — for purely selfish reasons.

“I root for (Eli),” Roethlisberger said. “Just like I'm sure he'll tell you we always want to do better than the other person in the long haul. I think a big part of it is, for me at least, when we get done playing, I want them to say it was the greatest quarterback class of all time.”

Manning agreed, saying, “You root for the guys (so) when people look back years from now, you can say that was a great draft class.”

This will be only the third Ben vs. Eli head-to-head meeting. In 2004, Roethlisberger directed the Steelers to a 33-30 win at Giants Stadium; in 2008, Manning led a 21-14 Giants win at Heinz Field — the last there by an NFC team.

Their superlative statistics, their shared ability to lead fourth-quarter drives, their acute awareness of all that swirls around them might be unmatched by any other quarterback, save for Tom Brady. And maybe a guy named Peyton Manning.

Roethlisberger has 14 touchdown passes, three interceptions and the No. 5 passer rating (101.4) for the Steelers (4-3). Manning has led fourth-quarter comebacks for the Giants (6-2) the past two weeks and just ended a streak of 24 games with 200-plus yards passing.

Charley Casserly was the Houston Texans general manager who passed on Roethlisberger at No. 10 in that 2004 draft, allowing the Steelers to pick him at No. 11 — 10 spots behind Manning. Casserly said he believes both will be first-ballot inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“It's interesting that after the Giants won the Super Bowl (nine months ago), there was immediate talk about Eli going in the Hall of Fame, but nobody mentioned Ben Roethlisberger,” said Casserly, now an NFL Network analyst. “He's been to three Super Bowls and won two. I think they both should go in together.”

Because they oppose each other so infrequently, and the next matchup might not be until 2016 — when Roethlisberger will be 34, Manning 35 — this could be one of the NFL's glamour games of the season.

“You know it's going to be a great game when they meet,” Casserly said. “They're both big-armed guys. They both can throw the deep ball. They both can make the rare throw.”

Which quarterback would a general manager take if he could redo that 2004 draft?

“ I think Eli probably may be a little better pure passer, but at the end of the day there isn't much to choose between the two,” he said. “Both of them can make all the throws, both of them can see the blitz and get the ball off. Both of them have done well in the fourth quarter. They've both been in the Super Bowl and won it with climactic drives.

“You don't see much of a difference except Eli might be more of a pure passer. You take either one of them and never look back.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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