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The 2004 NFL Draft’s Three Amigos continue to impress years later

The 2004 NFL draft is universally considered the second best draft class for quarterbacks in league history, sporting three potential Hall of Fame QBs amongst the first eleven selections. All three are still playing, but for varying reasons.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Leading up to the 2004 NFL draft, I was like a kid anxiously awaiting Christmas morning to arrive. The Pittsburgh Steelers had the eleventh pick of the first round and all the stars had seemingly aligned for the Steelers to select their next long awaited franchise quarterback. I had been reviewing the scouting reports for each of the three top QB prospects available that year. They were Eli Manning from Ole Miss, Phillip Rivers from N.C. State, and Ben Roethlisberger from Miami of Ohio.

Eli Manning had the family genetics and pedigree, and was expected to be the first overall selection, so I didn't waste too much time considering the possibility of Eli coming to Pittsburgh. He was very cool, calm, and composed on and off the field it seemed, but he was too laid back for my liking, so I was glad the Steelers weren't considered a possible destination for his services.

Ben Roethlisberger was a large, athletic prospect with a cannon for an arm. I had watched his incredible Hail Mary heave to win a game against Akron multiple times and one thing stuck out to me. Even though the ball traveled approximately seventy yards in the air, it seemed he could have thrown it even farther if necessary. That is actually where he got the nickname Big Ben. Imagine Josh Allen from this years draft, only more accurate. Also like Allen, Ben was from a smaller college program and therefore hadn't always faced the toughest competition. I was convinced Roethlisberger had the highest ceiling by far of the three prospects, and that he would be long gone by the time the Steelers made their selection with the eleventh pick.

Phillip Rivers was a coach's son and a born leader on the gridiron. He had moxie, and he wasn't shy about showing it on the field. He didn't have the pedigree of Eli, or the arm talent of Ben, but he was far from a slouch in anyway. I thought it predestined that he was coming to Pittsburgh. He seemed like the perfect Steelers QB, an excellent fit for the franchise and the city. Boy, was I ever wrong on that prediction.

The San Diego Chargers selected Manning with the first pick in the draft as expected, even though the Manning family had made it perfectly clear he didn’t want to play there. A trade to resolve this issue was quickly worked out when the Chargers traded Eli to the New York Giants for Rivers, who the Giants had just selected with the fourth overall pick.

Then all I could do was wait those agonizing minutes in hopes Roethlisberger would somehow fall to us at eleven. Remember, I thought he was the best prospect of the three coming out, and never dreamed the Steelers would have a shot at him. The picks slowly came and went as the talking heads speculated Ben going here or there, but miraculously he was still there when the Steelers pick came up.

I should have been ecstatic, but I was scared out of my mind. The memory of the Steelers passing on Marino was forever etched in my memory, causing me great concern. I was like, “Please God, don’t let that happen again.” Thankfully, in typical Steelers fashion, the pick was already in and we finally had our second franchise quarterback.

The years have seemingly flown by and now all three young men are grizzled veterans. Eli’s game has started to slip recently due to age and the corresponding loss of arm strength, but he still has a few bullets in the old gun. He may require a change of scenery to restart his fading career, if that is a route he would choose to go. His Hall of Fame credentials have already been established. A two time Super Bowl winner, plus the fact he defeated Tom Brady and the New England Patriots both times to win them.

Big Ben and Rivers are still performing at the top of their games, leading their teams into playoff consideration. Their respective teams are preparing to face off this Sunday night in a huge game that will undoubtedly affect playoff seeding and overall momentum for the winner, as well as bragging rights for two great warriors.

While Ben’s legacy and Hall of Fame worthiness are pretty much set in stone, Rivers still has a few holes in his resume. As it stands right now, Rivers would have to be in the running for the greatest QB to have never played in a Super Bowl. Truth is it’s hard to get voted into the Hall without having won a Super Bowl as a QB. The list of QBs to accomplish the feat without winning one is short, but the list of QBs in the Hall despite never reaching a Super Bowl is miniscule. Three men have accomplished the feat. Dan Fouts, Sonny Jurgensen, and Warren Moon. That’s it. Rivers is every bit as good a player as any of these gentlemen, maybe better, but winning a championship would definitely help his chances. Especially when your aforementioned peers won four of the five Super Bowls they have played in.

Sunday night’s match up of two of the all time greats is intriguing. Both men have their own unique personality. Ben is the self proclaimed gunslinger, a winner always trying to make a play even against all odds. Rivers is the constantly talking, junkyard dog who loves nothing better than reminding you that he just drove the last nail in your coffin.

This is a statement game that both teams desperately need. This should be fun.