Thursday, there was a tinge of finality felt throughout the National Football League for one of its most-celebrated quarterback classes: With the retirement of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, all three notable quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft have now finished their playing careers.
Legendary New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, the No. 1-overall pick in the the 2004 Draft, was the first to do when he bowed out at the conclusion of the 2019 season. And sure enough, Manning was among the many NFL figures to salute Roethlisberger upon his retirement in a video posted to social media.
"Hey Ben, just want to congratulate you on retirement, pal," Manning said. "18 years in one historic organization is a great task, so congratulations on that. You know, we've been tied together since our Draft class in 2004. So it's an honor to have shared that Draft class with you, it's an honor to have competed against you, it's an honor to call you a friend now man. All the best in retirement and enjoy."
Manning and Roethlisberger ended up having much in common, as they both played the entirety of their careers with the Giants and Steelers respectively. The two both won a pair of Super Bowls, as Manning won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI while Roethlisberger won in Super Bowls XL and XLIII. However, Manning's perfect Super Bowl record (2-0) gives him a leg up over Roethlisberger's 2-1 record (Lost Super Bowl XLV).
As Manning played in the NFC East and Roethlisberger played in the AFC North, the two only competed against each other four times, with Roethlisberger's Steelers going 3-1 against Manning's Giants. Manning's lone win over the Steelers came in 2008, as the Giants scored 12 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of Week 8 to score a 21-14 victory.
The 2004 NFL Draft's quarterback trio of Manning, Roethlisberger, and Philip Rivers all spent their careers linked together, and all three became some of the top quarterbacks of their era. Over the past three seasons, all three have bowed out one at a time: In-between Manning and Roethlisberger's retirement was the retirement of San Diego Chargers great Philip Rivers, who retired at the conclusion of the 2020 season after one year with the Indianapolis Colts.