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Eli Manning And Philip Rivers: Careers Forever Intertwined

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Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images.
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images.

It was a warm spring day in late April of 2004 when the football careers of Eli Manning and Philip Rivers began, and also where they intersected for the first time. The New York Giants, despite being only four years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, were coming off of a dismal 4-12 season -- their worst in over a decade -- and it was clear that it time to move forward and leave the Kerry Collins and Jim Fassel Era behind them. With the fourth overall pick in that year's draft, it was clear that they were prepared to make some big changes and forge ahead into the uncertain future with some new faces at the helm.

A few months earlier, the team had signed Tom Coughlin to be their head coach. Coughlin had spent the past seven seasons coaching the Jacksonville Jaguars from expansion team to the brink of the Super Bowl and was the perfect kind of old-school no-nonsense coach that the Giants needed to get them back to their winning ways. The Giants also were in need of a new quarterback and the 2004 draft class was full of them.

Of course, the prize of that year's draft was Manning. He was projected by everyone to be the consensus No. 1 overall pick, he had the name of football royalty and he was the younger brother of arguably the best quarterback in the league. There were rumors that circulated before the draft that Manning did not want to sign with San Diego if they drafted him with the first pick and that the Giants were negotiating with the Chargers to trade up and swap picks. When draft day finally arrived, everything went according to plan. The Chargers drafted Manning, the Giants picked Rivers and then the two teams traded, like two kids swapping their lunchtime snacks with each other in the cafeteria.

From that moment forward, it was clear that the NFL careers of both Manning and Rivers would be inextricably linked. Their careers, their accomplishments, their failures and everything in between would always be connected because of how their paths intersected on that draft day in 2004. From that point on, they would be compared to one another at every opportunity, their respective flaws and positive attributes weighed and dissected and placed against each other tirelessly. There would be the hypotheticals too, of course. The "what if the Giants had kept Rivers?" scenarios and the "what if Manning had stayed in San Diego?" daydreams.

As their respective careers played out over the course of the next decade, it became clear that Manning and Rivers were opposites in just about every way that two starting quarterbacks in the NFL can be opposites. Manning was always calm and composed, never wavering and rarely showing emotion on the playing field. Rivers was demonstrative, loud and abrasive, with an in-your-face style of play. He was the opposite of calm and composed -- remember his infamous trash-talking battle with Jay Cutler when they shouted at each other from opposing sidelines?

Manning is everything Rivers is not and, adversely, Rivers is everything Manning is not. Manning has the clutch gene, faltering in the regular season but rising to the occasion when it matters, delivering New York two Super Bowl and three division titles, including one in only his first full season as starter. Rivers. on the other hand, has led some very talented Chargers teams that were positioned to reach the Super Bowl but could never quite make it there. If Manning had chosen to stay in San Diego, would the Chargers have two Lombardi trophies decorating their team offices? Furthermore, if the Giants had kept Rivers, would those miracle playoff runs in 2008 and 2012 ever happened?

There's simply no way of knowing. But what we do know is that as their careers continue and they further separate themselves from one another, they become even more intertwined at the same time. Likewise, the argument over who is better and who has had the more successful career gets muddier as well. When you look at the stats and only the stats, the answer is clear: Philip Rivers. He has had a much higher quarterback rating (95.9) over the course of his career than Manning (81.9), has thrown far fewer interceptions (102 to Manning's 164) and despite playing a full season less than Manning, has only 12 fewer touchdown passes and 3,000 fewer yards. Rivers had a stretch of three seasons from 2008-2010 where he was a dominant regular season quarterback, whereas Manning has made his name mostly with his postseason play. But if you were to just look at their postseason accomplishments, the answer would clearly be Manning. After all, what Chargers fan wouldn't trade a few 12-4 seasons and first-round playoff exits for a pair of Super Bowl titles?

On Sunday, the latest chapter in the Manning/Rivers story was written and it certainly won't be the last.

Flashback: 2004 NFL Draft