Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Their Now Divergent Paths

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Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Their Now Divergent Paths
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In the afterglow of the New Orleans Saints taking home Super Bowl XLIV, it might be important to take some time to process what we've just seen.

It would be easy to destroy Manning's reputation. It would be easy to say the Saints just had a lucky day. It would be easy to overlook what this Super Bowl means to the careers of the 100 or so people who just took part in the biggest game of their lives.

Easy, but wrong.

For me, I love watching the Super Bowl, as I do the Masters, the World Cup, and the Olympics, because the only guarantee is that, in sporting terms, you're about to see history.

The duel between Manning and Brees wasn't as exciting as last year's between Roethlisberger and Warner. It wasn't as epic an upset as Eli Manning over Tom Brady.

In truth, we may only remember it as the highest rated Super Bowl until that record eventually breaks, too.

But in football terms, it was a showcase in raw offensive efficiency between two of the best quarterbacks currently playing the game. There weren't many risks taken, and, ultimately, it came down to what all close games come down to: the big play.

And yet, even though Drew Brees is the one heading to Disney World, Manning is the story many have been focusing on since the final whistle blew.

Did he choke? Did he simply get beaten? Is he still among the greatest of all time? How can he get better/be more prepared/be more efficient than he was this season?

Those are compelling questions, and yet it's Drew Brees I'm fascinated with. Brees nearly broke one of "those" records—Dan Marino's single-season passing mark—in 2008/2009. He fell 15 yards short that year and, for his work, earned exactly zero MVP votes. Chad Pennington got four votes that year, by comparison.

Think about that: Of the 50 sportswriters chosen to decide the best football player of the year, four chose Chad Pennington over Drew Brees, who nearly broke one of the toughest records there is to break.

This year? He came back and, though he threw for far fewer yards, Brees did break another of those long-standing records that just seemed impossible to break, completing 70.6 percent of his passes, statistically beating out Ken Anderson's 1982 mark.

That's like batting in 54 consecutive games and then coming back the next year and hitting .400. It's a passer's league, more than it has ever been, but it's still remarkable.

Brees' final line of 32/39 for 289 yards looks great, but it doesn't tell half the story. Brees threw one incomplete pass in the entire second half, a short pass to Reggie Bush which, if I'm recalling correctly, Bush dropped.

So if you don't count the spike to stop the clock and you give him a pass on Bush dropping the ball, Brees completed 17 straight passes in the second half, with nine straight completions to end the first half, with another spike not counted.

That is Phil Simms territory.

Manning's legacy is, in reality, written at this point. He could open an NFL sports book and he'd still go in the NFL Hall of Fame and he'll be thrown up there, easily, with the best of all time.

The whole "Worst Interception in Super Bowl History" is the typical myopia we see right after the game. He's still going to be hampered by comparisons to Brady's three rings until he wins another title, but the story of his career is mostly written at this point.

What I'm fascinated by is where Brees goes from here. With the Super Bowl MVP under his belt, he's finally got some traction among writers where the continued undervaluing of his work should stop.

Add the fact that, whether it's fair or not, Manning, now 34, would have to blow the doors off of everyone to earn another MVP.  That is considering the fact it's boring to keep voting for him, the Super Bowl will hang over him a bit next season, and the award is up for grabs.

This year and the year before, Manning wasn't statistically the best quarterback in football but won the award anyway. I think that was the right decision, as I thought he was the most valuable single player in the league those seasons, but his monopoly over the MVP is likely at an end.

Brees, however, is just 31 year old and puts up numbers that are almost impossible to do outside of a dome in the current game. He's got the cachet of "Super Bowl MVP" before his name. He's going to have the respect of not throwing a single interception all postseason under his belt as well.

In my mind, the Saints have a very long road to get back to the Super Bowl, but Drew Brees has got a real shot of putting together one or more MVP seasons in the next decade and making a sneaky bid for his own Hall of Fame bust one day.

And even if Super Bowl XLIV wasn't the most exciting game in history, you can look back on it as the day those two stories intersected, if only for a moment.

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