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Flashback Friday: Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and the 2004 NFL Draft

How Big Ben almost became the Giants’ franchise quarterback

New York Giants v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

When millennials think New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, the names Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger are probably the first that come to mind. They’re synonymous with their franchises, Manning with Big Blue and Roethlisberger the Black and Yellow (gold, to some). They’ve combined for four Super Bowl Championships, nearly 100,000 yards passing, more than 600 touchdowns and 243 wins in their 13-year careers’.

Seeing either guy under center in a different color uniform just wouldn’t feel the same. Today they’re elder-statesmen and future Hall of Fame candidates who are still on the right side of their NFL golden years. But had it not been for a blockbuster draft-day trade in 2004, Manning in New York and Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh would never have been.

NFL Draft, 04/24/2004

So just how close was Big Ben to joining Big Blue that day? Maybe just a few moments, according to what his agent told ESPN.

“We believe either Ernie or Tom Coughlin had told Terry (Hoeppner) they would take Ben at [No.] 4 if they couldn't get the trade done.”

Roethlisberger “really thought” he might be a Giant.

“It was definitely one of the big options. I think that even nowadays and back then, there are so many speculations and draft boards and people guessing where you are going to go and agents telling you all these things,” Roethlisberger said. “But there were only probably three realistic options that we thought and we really thought the Giants were one of the big ones.”

Manning was selected first overall by the San Diego Chargers and the Giants drafted Phillip Rivers with the fourth pick. General manager Ernie Accorsi traded the rights to Rivers along with a third-round pick in that draft, and 2005 first and fifth-round picks to the San Diego Chargers for the rights to Manning. The Steelers drafted Roethlisberger at 11. Years later, Accorsi confirmed the Giants’ interest in Roethlisberger.

“If we wouldn't have gotten to the fourth spot (in the draft), God only knows what we would have had to give up to get up there. There were three quarterbacks up there, so we could have had a shot at one of the other ones besides Eli,” Accorsi said during a recent press conference to mark his Ring of Honor induction. “If we didn't make the trade, I felt fairly confident that we would have been able to get Ben Roethlisberger, but you never know.”

As Ed Valentine noted here some years back, the Giants paid a king’s ransom for Eli. The draft picks Accorsi traded to the Chargers turned into Shawne Merriman, Roman Oben and Nate Kaeding.

“The Giants, obviously, surrendered a lot here in terms of talent. Thinking back I would have been perfectly content had the Giants simply selected Roethlisberger. What did the Giants get in return? Well, two Super Bowls. ... I'd say they made out pretty well. ”

I’d agree. Giants, Steelers or Chargers, no one’s complaining about how the 2004 draft played out.