PITTSBURGH -- If Ben Roethlisberger should one day be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, teammate Will Gay said the Steelers quarterback should probably have some contemporaries with him.
It would only be fitting if Eli Manning and Philip Rivers join Roethlisberger in Canton.
The three are forever linked by the 2004 draft, or what Gay calls the "best class in America." If you don't remember, San Diego originally selected Ole Miss' Manning first overall, the New York Giants took North Carolina State's Rivers at No. 4 and the Steelers took Miami (Ohio)'s Roethlisberger 11th, though the Chargers and Giants later swapped picks.
The comparisons and second-guessing have been the subject of great debate for the past dozen years since. Actually, it's turned out pretty well for all parties involved.
Manning is the NFL's 13th all-time leader in passing yards (40,731), Roethlisberger is 16th (39,969) and Rivers is 19th (37,904) for a combined 118,604 yards or 22.5 miles. Manning has twice won Super Bowl MVP honors, Roethlisberger has won two of three Super Bowl appearances and Rivers, well, he hasn't won the Lombardi yet, but he's done just about everything else, including going to five Pro Bowls.
On Monday night, the Steelers will face San Diego's QB for the fifth time -- they are 3-2 against the Rivers, including a win in the 2008 playoffs -- but it will be the first time they will do so without Roethlisberger, who will miss his second straight game with a left knee injury.
That doesn't take anything away from the luster of Monday's game, according to Rivers.
"I don't see it that way because the pass rush, the active defense, their defense, you're playing the Pittsburgh Steelers," he said. "My concerns are with that defense.
"Certainly, I wish (Roethlisberger) was playing just because you don't like to see a guy get hurt but I don't think it hinders anything from our approach standpoint."
Likewise, the Steelers defense's concern is Rivers and San Diego's third-ranked offense, which averages 309 yards per game through the air. Rivers leads the NFL with 1,248 passing yards and is tied for fourth with eight touchdowns.
"Any quarterback that can throw and pass and afraid of any defense, that's a threat," said Gay. "We have to do our best to keep him contained."
Keeping his emotions contained is just not Rivers' style. While Roethlisberger has come to epitomize grace under pressure and Manning is almost aloof, Rivers is easily the fieriest of the three. The Alabama native is almost as famous for his swagger as for wearing bolo ties.
"It's just an excitement and love for the game and a care of our guys and a care to win that really drives that emotion," said Rivers.
Stats are not the only numbers that have come to define Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger. This summer the three most famous QBs from the class of 2004 received lucrative contract extensions. Rivers got $83.25 million from San Diego, Manning received four years and $84 million from New York while Roethlisberger got $87.4 million from Pittsburgh.
"You don't get paid for no reason," says Gay.
Of course, those are not the only numbers that Rivers has been following.
"I'd be lying if I said (I didn't)," Rivers said. "You're obviously linked to those guys in the same draft year. I've cowls, and (I) have gotten to meet Ben a little bit in the Pro Bowl and knowertainly seen them play a lot of games and both win Super B Eli a little bit, a hello here or there. Obviously, two awesome players. ... I don't want keep up with them in a comparison standpoint, but there's no denying you know the guys you came in with."