Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger defined by one thing: winning


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They have 250 games, 7,796 passes attempted, 376 touchdowns and 240 interceptions between them. Yet numbers do not define them.

If either ever becomes a regular-season NFL MVP, it will be because he is exactly that: valuable. Not because he puts up the gaudiest, fantasy-friendly statistics.

Here we are, nine years into their careers, and they are Eli and Big Ben, now more alike than different as quarterbacks.

"I think it's a fair assessment to call both of them winners," Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Both guys have been to the big dance and delivered. That's what this profession is about. That's what that position, particularly, is about."

Roethlisberger or Manning has been at quarterback in five of the past seven Super Bowls. They've combined to win four.

"(They're) winners. That's the point," said Ernie Accorsi, the former New York Giants general manager who orchestrated the draft-day trade for Manning. "I pay no attention to stats or passer ratings. You draft a quarterback for one reason: to win championships."

Roethlisberger and Manning face off Sunday, as the Steelers travel to MetLife Stadium to play the Giants. Theirs is not a regular rivalry; they meet as often as we elect a president.

In 2004, when they were rookies, the Steelers won, 33-30, at Giants Stadium. In 2008, the Giants won, 21-14, at Heinz Field.

Now they play again, in the prime of their careers; Roethlisberger is 30, Manning 31. They are seen similarly by their peers: In NFL Network's "Top 100: Players of 2012," Roethlisberger ranked 30th, Manning 31st.

And both have met high expectations from draft day, April 24, 2004, when Manning was selected first overall by the San Diego Chargers (then sent to the Giants in a deal that included No. 4 overall pick Philip Rivers), and Roethlisberger went 11th to the Steelers.

"There never was a doubt for me on either of these two," Accorsi said. "We were picking Ben had we been unable to make the trade, so our fallback position was good."

The Steelers weathered off-field issues with Roethlisberger, including a serious motorcycle accident in 2006 and two sexual-assault accusations that never resulted in criminal charges but drew a four-game suspension in 2010 for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

The Giants never wavered on Manning, even if fans and media did. He hit a tackling dummy with a pass in his first minicamp practice and lost his first six starts.

"If you have a conviction on a quarterback, and you don't have the courage to stay with that conviction after some rocky moments," Accorsi said, "then you're never going to have a great one."

Manning's even keel demeanor has helped him flourish under the spotlight of New York. "He is good above the neck," Tomlin said.

Roethlisberger's physical game is the perfect fit in the Steel City. "He's very unique with his size (and) arm strength," Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said.

Both have earned respect in the locker room.

"You ask him, 'Do you ever go home?' " Giants defensive tackle Rocky Bernard said. "When you see Eli on Sunday, you know why he has success. He prepares so much."

Said third-year Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey: "Ben's a leader, a great dude, the kind of guy you want to be with in a foxhole. When I first got here, he showed me how to be a professional."

The reputations and résumés of both quarterbacks are no secret to opposing defenses.

"We know all about (Manning's) fourth-quarter résumé," Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said. "We're not going to rattle him. We're going to have to out-execute him."

Said Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell: "You've got to ask (strength coach) Jerry Palmieri to get our guys in the weight room more because Big Ben is truly Big Ben. When you try to wrap him, he tries to throw you off. Or he does throw you off."

As for Manning and Roethlisberger, even after all these years, they don't know each other well.

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Manning said his assessment of Roethlisberger hasn't changed much since they were rookies: "He was an athletic guy with a strong arm, and obviously he's done a great job of making plays and winning a lot of games."

But Roethlisberger's approach toward Manning has changed. He used to view Eli as a rival. "He was the No. 1 pick," Roethlisberger said, "and I think anytime someone is picked ahead of you, you want to beat that guy out."

Now? "It's neat to see his success."

Roethlisberger hopes one day that he, Manning, Rivers and third-rounder Matt Schaub are seen as "the greatest quarterback class of all time."

In the meantime, there are games to play, maybe more Super Bowls to win. Sunday gives us Roethlisberger vs. Manning for the first time in forever. For now, that's good enough. Yes, that's plenty good enough.

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports.

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