Brady vs. Manning Debate Needs to be Retired
As we get set for Sunday’s monster matchup between our New England Patriots and another Peyton Manning-led Super Bowl contender—these days it’s the Denver Broncos—the Brady vs Manning comparisons have once again hit us in the face. Every pundit wants to offer his or her unique spin on why one or the other is superior. “Who has produced more offense with fewer weapons”, they ask. Or, equally often, “Whom would you rather have with the game on the line on Any Given Sunday?”
Who cares? I mean, seriously, who cares? This one is the embodiment of Po-tat-o vs. Po-ta-to.
Frankly, I’ll take either guy, build a team around him, and contend every year for a decade and a half.
Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells always flatly stated that quarterbacks are judged by their jewelry. Tom Brady owns three Super Bowl rings. Manning has one. Single-minded Brady promoters think that this means Brady holds the upper hand. This is simplistic and parochial thinking.
A Super Bowl victory represents the combined efforts of a front office, a training staff, a dozen or so work-obsessed coaches, 53 full-time players and a handful of practice players. It is not earned strictly through the efforts of Brady or Manning—and it should define neither. Based on the “team concept” so eloquently articulated by each player at every turn, I suspect Brady and Manning would concur.
Should New Englanders, of all people, wonder how many pieces need to fall into place in order for a team to win a Championship? New England’s incredible near miss at a fourth Lombardi Trophy—in 2008 vs the New York Giants—underscored how easily a victory can slip away. I still wake up in a cold sweat when I hear the name David Tyree.
For those who may have forgotten, Manning’s championship was earned back in 2007, when he led his team to a solid victory over the Chicago Bears. That day, he won the MVP and silenced his critics. This included me, as I finally conceded to all who would listen that the victory created relative and permanent parity between him and Brady. That day, I stopped scorning Peyton Manning and began to respect his legacy.
Manning was always destined for NFL greatness. His Dad, Archie Manning, was an NFL Pro Bowl QB. Peyton was the first pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. Immediately anointed as “ The Franchise”, he went on to earn that status as he matured. Even Manning’s brother Eli—the second best Manning QB—went on to win two Championships. Decent bloodlines there.
To his credit, Brady took an entirely different path. Here’s a former sixth round draft pick who, upon not being selected during the first day of the 2000 NFL Draft, famously seethed for months. This, after an absurd arrangement at Michigan in which his head coach used a platoon system requiring QBs to earn the second half start by their performance during the first. If you really want to understand what makes Brady burn with intensity, read Charles Pierce‘s Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything. It’s fascinating.
So, they took different paths. Who cares?
The numbers, of course, are what gamblers call “a push”. They’re essentially equal. As ESPN noted before last year’s AFC Championship matchup between them, both Manning and Brady are in the Top 5 All Time in Career Winning Percentage, Career Victories, and Career Passing TDs. Both future Hall of Famers. Both unimaginably wealthy. One the quintessential down-home “Aw Shucks” Southerner, the other the archtype, style-conscious Northeastener.
Doesn’t matter—two distinctly different players and people, same result.
Let’s “bottom line” this. During my life as a New England Patriot fan, I’ve watched some very mediocre QBs like Jim Plunkett, Tony Eason, Hugh Millen, Tommy Hodson, Doug Flutie, (sorry BC fans) and Matt Cassel. I’ve cheered for one “tough as nails” competitor in Steve Grogan, and a top-tier performer named Drew Bledsoe. None has essentially guaranteed the annual award of an AFC East first-place finish and a playoff slot. Brady has. And I’m certain that the fans of either Indy or the Broncos feel the same way about Manning. I would.
I recall another superstar rivalry three decades ago that divided legions of fans. Each star took a different path to greatness, each led his team with a starkly different style, and each won multiple championships. Ultimately, when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson retired, they grew to be close friends. Would Celtic history really have been much different with Magic in the Green?
I suspect that Tom and Peyton care very little about this alleged rivalry. If they’ve moved on, perhaps we should too.
After all, it could be Jay Cutler lining up behind center in Foxboro this Sunday.