Photo Credit: Jim Davis, The Boston Globe
Let’s face it, there was no escaping this theme ahead of Sunday’s AFC Championship game.
The nostalgic think pieces were going to dominate the news cycle in spite of the collective eyeroll from those less concerned with the legacies of the respective quarterbacks and more focused on the game itself. The X’s and O’s of Bill Belichick’s gameplan to free his receivers and tight end from the Broncos’ stingy secondary, or the strategy of how Denver’s run centric offense will generate enough points against a Patriots defense that finished as one of the best teams at limiting rushing yards were placed on the backburner. The big story about the 17th and possible final meeting between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning even made some forget about the other playoff matchup involving teams led by the happy-go-lucky, MVP-favorite Cam Newton and the steady, hungry Carson Palmer.
It’s certainly understandable as to why some are annoyed or tired of hearing about this storyline, but make no mistake about it– it’s worth appreciating and celebrating not only the fact that Brady and Manning’s legendary careers largely overlapped, but also the sheer uniqueness of each quarterback’s career arc.
Manning, the Tennessee product, has long been a self-confessed brainiac and film buff whose preparation and control freak tendencies bordered insanity. Stories of Manning locking himself in a room with coaches at 6 am each day in the offseason to review every play from the previous season or bringing home bags filled with game film to analyze in college are not uncommon for those familiar with the quarterback’s work habits. As the son of a former quarterback, he got a very early education in what it took to be a great college and NFL quarterback. Manning never took anything for granted, always studying every detail and exhausting every resource to fuel his successful career. While that same obsession led to overthinking in critical moments and caused postseason troubles, Manning has put together a statistical resume that places him as the best passer of all time. No longer in his prime, Manning now has relatively weak arm strength and only decent accuracy, but his chess-like ability to recognize defenses and entertaining histrionics at the line of scrimmage still give him a fighter’s chance.
Tom Brady, or the “Golden Boy” as some enviously call him, was almost the diametric opposite to Manning in terms of early-career status. The well known tales of Brady having to overcome positional politics at Michigan to finally get his chance or defying his lack of athletic ability to master the quarterback position is stuff of legend. Much like Manning, Brady’s attention to detail and commitment is something that most others don’t have. He has a perfectionist mentality about everything that’ll make him a better player– from his throwing mechanics to what food he eats to what technology he can use to increase his speed in reading defenses. Tom’s fire and passion for football are always on full display, but his people skills and self confidence have carried him for many years. Brady knew exactly what he was talking about when he told Owner Robert Kraft that he’d be “the best decision” the franchise ever made. Now, he has a chance to win an unprecedented fifth Super Bowl, cementing his legacy as the greatest quarterback.
Both Brady and Manning understand the constant culture of comparisons surrounding their football “rivalry”, but remain friends away from the field and won’t publically slight each other. Brady, however, did bristle at the idea of Manning being his equal in one of his private emails unearthed during the Deflategate saga. The Patriots have had the upper hand against Manning’s teams (11-5 overall), and Brady would love to be the victor yet again en route to the Super Bowl. Manning, however, would love one more shot at a Super B0wl victory, and would most definitely take satisfaction in knocking off his familiar foe to get there.
No matter what happens on Sunday afternoon, one thing is for sure: We have been lucky to witness two of the greatest quarterbacks of ALL time play the game of football.