It seems as though every decade in the NFL has two quarterbacks that stand out from the rest and seem to always be battling to be the best.
The 1960s had Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas. The 1970s had Terry Bradshaw and Fran Tarkenton. The 80's belonged to Joe Montana and Dan Marino. The 90's gave us Troy Aikman and Brett Favre. Somewhere down the line, we may be saying this about Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers in the 2010s.
The stories of these two men began in very different ways. Peyton was a celebrated first overall pick in 1998 who came into the league as a favorite son and was pegged for a great career before he took one snap. Tom came into the league as Mr. Irrelevant, as he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, 199th overall.
Fast forward to 2011, and between them these two have six MVP awards, seventeen playoff appearances, eight AFC championship game berths, six Super Bowl starts, and four Lombardi trophies.
To hear their fingers tell the story, Tom Brady was the better quarterback. Brady won three Super Bowls and Manning won only one. Some people will use this stat as their only basis for who is better. But the quarterback does not win or lose the Super Bowl. It takes fifty-three men on the field and many other men on the sidelines to win a trophy. I do not use this stat as a measuring stick of who is better.
If you are interested in how I do see it, then sit back and enjoy the ride. It should be fun.
Pretty boy athletes are nothing new. From Joe Namath to Jim Palmer, there are some guys in sports who like the spotlight and take on a Hollywood air. Being from Philadelphia, I know that Cole Hamels fits that bill pretty well. In the NFL today, I don't know if there is a bigger "movie star" than Tom Brady.
There really is nothing wrong with this.
Brady is a California guy, and people out there are known for that look. I just think, when you look at the images of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning side-by-side, that Peyton more fits the bill of who you want as a field general.
Brady is the beach boy who marries models, experiments with his hair, and poses in magazine advertisements. Manning is the all-American guy who married his college sweetheart, has a down-home twang, and makes commercials for high-def televisions.
Now if I had to trade places with one, it would probably have to be Brady.
Never mind, it's way too cold in Foxborough.
Peyton Manning is brilliant.
He is a throwback to the days when quarterbacks used to call their own plays. While this is an art that seems long lost in the regular NFL, Peyton has committed himself to the mastery of it.
He has basically become his own offensive coordinator, which makes a double-burden out of the already tough position of quarterback in this league. He walks up to the line and seems to know what a defense is going to do before they do it, and he can still make them crazy by yelling nonsense under center.
This is not a knock on Brady but a nod to Manning's tremendous intelligence, since I don't think any quarterback in this league can go no-huddle for more than two minutes anymore.
Then again, I am an Eagles fan.
Brett Favre is the unquestioned iron man of NFL history. Starting 297 straight games without missing one to injury is almost ridiculous, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was never matched. But if there is one guy who could come close to matching or breaking it, it would have to be Peyton Manning.
Manning has started every game in his career since day one in 1998, for a current streak of 208 games. Like Favre before him, he has been a man whose name just isn't on the injury report, and he really shows no signs of slowing down.
You can count on one hand how many times Peyton gets shook up from a sack over the course of a season, and he just makes professional football look like playing a game of Madden in that respect.
To be fair, you can't say that Tom Brady is a piece of candy, either. By and large, Brady has been a 16-game-a-season quarterback and hasn't missed as much time as you may be susceptible to at this position. But having said that, Brady lost the entire 2008 season to injury, which took away any chance he ever had of iron man status.
When you think of Tom Brady under center for the Patriots, you think of a man wearing a beat-up gray hoodie on the sideline.
Brady has been inexorably linked to Bill Belichick for his whole career. When Bill came to the Pats in 2000, Drew Bledsoe was their franchise quarterback. Although Brady only threw three passes that season, Bledsoe suffered a serious injury the following season. After Brady went 3-1 in Bledsoe's absence, Belichick declared him the starting quarterback of the Pats.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Peyton's story is a little different. He was drafted by Jim Mora in 1998 and proceeded to make the playoffs twice with Mora as coach. When Mora was fired in 2001 and Tony Dungy took the headset, he and Peyton went on to make the playoffs seven straight times, including winning a Super Bowl championship.
Dungy retired after the 2008 season and handed the reins over to Jim Caldwell. In the two years since then, Peyton and Jim went on to make the playoffs in both seasons, including a Super Bowl berth in 2009.
You may not think this is fair to Brady since he never played for another coach, therefore could never prove he could succeed under another. But in my estimation, Bill Belichick has one of the best minds in football on both sides of the ball and always supplied Brady with a great defense and a stellar offensive line. Peyton played and succeeded with less astute coaches and shoddier support, which leads me to my next slide...
Statistics are a great barometer to judge a quarterback's play, but one aspect of the man they can't tell you about is his poise under fire and if he can have that "eye of the tiger" than can bring his team back from adversity to win games.
Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana exemplified that poise, so much that Montana earned the nickname "Joe Cool." Whether the adversity in question is leading your team back in the fourth quarter of a game or taking your team to the playoffs after you were floundering in the middle of the standings at Thanksgiving, there are quarterbacks who just play well with their backs against the wall.
Tom Brady is not one of them.
Yes, he has a 95.2 career rating and three Super Bowl rings, but the fact is that Brady really hasn't faced much adversity in his career, with the exception of the 2001 season. He deserves utmost credit for coming off the bench that year and leading the team to a championship when they were 5-5 at one point in the season.
Since then, though, most of Brady's seasons have followed a familiar pattern: He has a good supporting cast around him, most of his players stay relatively healthy, they win games they are supposed to win, and if they do lose, they are almost guaranteed a victory the following week.
Peyton's road has been a little bit rougher. There have been three cases in his career where he has pulled a dead season out of the gutter and turned it into a playoff berth with an odds-defying winning streak.
In 2000, a late-season losing streak put the Colts at 7-6. While most pundits were calling this a collapse, Peyton lead the Colts to three straight wins and to a wild card berth. In 2008, the Colts sat at 3-4 seven games through the season. Again, Peyton rallied the troops, and the blue horseshoes did not lose another game that regular season, ending at 12-4 with an AFC South Championship.
However, Peyton's best rally came this past season, when he took an injury-riddled Colts team from a 6-6 record at Thanksgiving to a 10-6 divisional championship.
As I said in my intro, a lot of people's comparisons of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning begin and end with their playoff history. By the numbers, Brady has had better luck than Manning in the playoffs. Brady is 14-5 in the playoffs and 3-1 in the Super Bowl, where Manning is 9-10 with a 1-1 record in the Super Bowl.
Having said this, the decade has been a tale of two halves for the quarterbacks, and the advantage for the playoffs in the more recent half goes decisively to Manning.
Let's take a look at both quarterbacks' playoff performance since 2006. Brady has a 4-4 record, two appearances in the AFC championship game (1-1) and one appearance in the Super Bowl (0-1). Manning has a 6-4 record, two appearances in the AFC championship game (2-0) and two appearances in the Super Bowl (1-1).
Peyton's most recent playoff win was the 2009 AFC championship game against the Jets, while you'd have to go back to the 2007 title game against the Chargers to find Tom's most recent victory in the postseason.
Tom Brady has three rings and Peyton Manning has one.
Having said that, I'd rather have Manning under center in a playoff game than Brady in the last five years.
The final and most important reason I think Peyton Manning is better than Tom Brady is the most obvious reason: Manning is simply a better player than Brady.
Yes, Brady's career passer rating (95.2) is marginally higher than Peyton's at this point (94.9). However, this is more a result of temporary statistical inflation than a full comparison of their careers.
Brady is coming off a unanimous MVP season where he threw 36 touchdowns to four interceptions. Peyton is coming off a season with an injury-ridden offense that hurt his stats. Brady had a much better 2010 than Manning, but their achievements prove that Manning had the better career.
Tom has won two MVP awards. Peyton has won four.
Tom has made six Pro Bowls. Peyton has made eleven.
Tom has had two seasons where his passer rating was over 100. Peyton has had three, and one season where it was 99.9.
Tom career completion percentage is 63.6. Peyton's is 64.9.
Tom has lost 56 fumbles in his career. Peyton has lost 38.
Tom has seven rushing touchdowns in his career. Peyton has 17.
In the end, the numbers on their jerseys do not lie. Manning really is Brady-and-a-half.