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Third wheel

Long wait doesn't shake Roethlisberger's confidence

Updated: Sunday April 25, 2004 1:05PM
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By Jacob Luft, SI.com

  Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger was ranked as high as Eli Manning and Philip Rivers by many draft experts.
Ed Betz/AP Photo

NEW YORK -- If anybody had the right to feel exasparated watching the Eli Manning-Philip Rivers saga unfold Saturday, it was Ben Roethlisberger.

Even after his name finally was called by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 11th overall selection, Roethlisberger had to endure a news conference in which half of the questions were about Manning's power play to stay out of San Diego. The other half were thinly veiled insults at the quality of play Roethlisberger faced in the Mid-American Conference, as if he should apologize for having attended Miami of Ohio instead of the other Miami -- the one that had six players drafted among the top 21 picks of this draft.

"The attention has been on Eli all week and that's fine with me," Roethlisberger said. "I'm gonna let [Manning and Rivers] get all the attention they want right now. When I start playing, that's when I'm going to be getting the attention."

All three of these quarterbacks are listed at 6-foot-5, but the 241-pound Roethlisberger said his combination of size and athleticism will allow him to stand out above the other two. That, along with "the leadership I bring, the will to win."

It's hard to argue with Roethlisberger's track record at Miami, where he led the school to a MAC championship and its first bowl victory in 28 years, a 49-28 win over Louisville in the 2003 GMAC Bowl. As a three-year starter, he passed for 10,829 yards and 84 touchdowns.

Also, Roethlisberger had the presence of mind to wear Steelers colors -- a black suit with gold tie -- to Madison Square Garden for the Draft.

"Yeah, no one knew I was going here. But I knew. I thought I looked good in black and gold," he said.

Public Enemy No. 1

As bad as the crowd's treatment of Manning came across on the television broadcast, it was actually a lot worse. About 30 minutes before ESPN's broadcast started, the seven draft hopefuls in attendance were introduced by former NFL defensive lineman Mike Golic.

Manning literally was booed off the stage as the first "Eli sucks" chant of the day started.

The situation didn't get any better after the Chargers announced their selection of Manning, and it reached a crescendo when Manning had to walk through the crowd to get to the news conference area upstairs. One rowdy fan kept yelling, "Worst No. 1 pick ever!" You would have thought Manning was trying to leave Florida Field or Bryant-Denny Stadium after an Ole Miss victory, not The Theater at Madison Square Garden after being chosen as the top pick of the NFL Draft.

Manning's best guess for the hostile treatment? "Might be a lot of Jets fans," he said.

Going once, going twice ...

Remember that Chargers jersey Manning was given by commissioner Paul Tagliabue on stage? Eli's mother, Olivia, has an idea for what she wants to do with it.

"We'll auction it off and give some good money to a charity," she said. "It's a happy day. I just wanted him somewhere else [besides San Diego]. I'm excited he'll be in the NFC and Peyton will be in the AFC."

Winslow, the original

Kellen Winslow Sr. didn't have a problem with the way Archie Manning helped steer Eli from the Chargers to the Giants.

"If he didn't think San Diego was a good place for his son, he should say so and he did. I'm very proud of him for doing that," Winslow Sr. said.

As for his own son, Kellen Winslow Jr., the father admittedly was biased in his effusive praise to the Browns for taking him sixth overall.

"That's a steal. It could be the sale of the century," Winslow Sr. said. "At this point in his career, he's better than his father. I didn't run like that. I didn't block like that. He's got an eighth gear that I didn't have.

"[Incoming Browns QB] Jeff Garcia will return to the Pro Bowl. It's a great fit."

Brashness appears to run in the family. The younger Winslow, if you recall, struck a Heisman pose after catching his first -- and only -- touchdown of the season against Louisiana Tech last season.

"It's time to change [the Browns]. It's time to start winning," Winslow Jr. said.

Mr. Irrelevant

The last pick of the 2003 NFL Draft, wide receiver Ryan Hoag, was in attendance along with the committee that organizes Mr. Irrelevant Week in Newport Beach, Calif.

Hoag, who was picked by the Raiders but ended up on the Giants' practice squad, had advice for this year's last selection. Once again, the Raiders hold the 255th and final pick.

"If he can manifest a trade [away from Oakland], he'll be alright," Hoag said. "The thing with the Raiders is, the veterans stay with the veterans and the rookies stay with the rookies."

"Whoever it is, he should just be honored that he's one of 250 people in the world to be drafted. It's an honor in itself, and Irrelevant Week is one of the best weeks of your life."

Jacob Luft is a Producer for SI.com.

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