Giants quarterback Eli Manning says he's not concerned with comparisons to this week's rival quarterback, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. (Bill Kostroun/The Associated Press)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The comparisons began to pick up demoralizing momentum three years ago when the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl.
He jumped right to the head of a noteworthy class.
In many respects, Eli Manning did not measure up before he spotted Plaxico Burress in the end zone last February and got hold of the Lombardi Trophy for the Giants.
So whose ring has more diamonds?
"They're always going to compare quarterbacks who come in at the same time," Manning said yesterday. "When we're done playing, they'll probably compare who's done what, but it's nothing for me to be concerned with."
Mostly, it's a source of annoyance.
"It's just something people are probably always going to talk about," Roethlisberger said. "People always talk about draft classes and quarterbacks. I feel honored to be in the same class as him and Philip."
That would be San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, the odd man out at this point, with no rings.
Manning probably thought he moved beyond all of the side-by-side comparisons when he orchestrated perhaps the greatest drive in Giants history in Super Bowl XLII. But he's going head to head with Roethlisberger this week in Pittsburgh.
And both teams own 5-1 records.
The quarterbacks will be staring down impressive defensive units, and the postgame numbers will undoubtedly be scrutinized in office cubicles and on bar stools.
"We know it is going to be a great game," Roethlisberger said. "They are the defending champs and they are a very, very good football team. We know how important this game is. And it is by no means going to be easy. So I guess it will help us kind of figure out where we are and where we are headed."
It's an opinion shared by the Giants.
Manning was the first player drafted in 2004, and Roethlisberger went 10 picks later. There was plenty of second-guessing as Big Ben took over for an injured Tommy Maddox and drove the Steelers into the AFC title game.
He was named offensive rookie of the year along the way.
The next season, Roethlisberger won the Super Bowl at the age of 23 and seemed destined for stardom.
"You can look at quarterbacks and what they've done, but it all comes down to who's around you," said Manning, whose three interceptions in a wild-card loss to Carolina that winter overshadowed a solid year. "I think we both work hard and try to put our teams in position to win games."
There was more playoff disappointment before Manning broke through.
"I'm not comparing myself to Ben," Manning said. "It doesn't really matter what I've done or what he's done."
Not this week, anyway.
"I think that the player just kind of went down through the stretch and proved a lot of things last year," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Manning.
Still, it's always fun to kick around the stats.
Roethlisberger has completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 1,163 yards. He's thrown nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Manning has completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,389 yards. He's thrown eight touchdowns and four interceptions.
"They are both extremely competitive and well-documented winners," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "I think that they are great for this game because of that. They are young, emerging guys and that's what they have in common."
Roethlisberger might lead all quarterbacks in grass stains. He's been sacked 18 times already. Manning has been taken down just three times.
Coughlin believes the Steelers were lacking experience on the line early on.
"I think the other thing is that the quarterback does such a great job of hanging in there," he said. "You have to recognize that part as well. He will wait until the absolute last second before he throws the ball."
Despite being part of a small fraternity, the quarterbacks do not know each other well.
"Ben and I were at the draft together," Manning said. "Actually, I haven't seen him in a couple of years. There's no real relationship. But obviously I have a lot of respect for him and the way he plays the game."
And they live in completely different worlds.
"I think he is probably scrutinized more, obviously, because of the media up there," Roethlisberger said. "But obviously we have both won a Super Bowl, and so far have had pretty good careers. I don't mind where I'm at. I don't want to be out there like that. Football is what I do. It is not who I am, and that is the mentality that I take."
Notes: Left tackle David Diehl was unable to practice yesterday because of a sore back. He is expected to go today. ... Burress spent at least part of the workout today on a stationary bike. He was out because of a stiff neck. ... Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce was able to practice. He noted a sore quad has improved.
Reach Mike Dougherty at firstname.lastname@example.org.