First of all, let’s make something very clear: Sunday night’s Patriots/Colts game had no real bearing on the Peyton Manning/Tom Brady debate. It was one game and quite frankly, the hype surrounding it was a little unnecessary. However, despite the irritation I felt at everyone who overplayed that one game’s importance for the quarterback rivalry, it did give us all an opportunity to reflect on quarterbacking history. More specifically, it let us consider Manning and Brady’s places in that history.
Johnny Unitas. Joe Montana. Dan Marino. John Elway. Brett Favre. Peyton Manning. Tom Brady. Which one doesn’t fit? Do they all fit? When talking about the best of all time at any position, the debate usually becomes animated. When talking about the quarterback position things get plain dangerous. Which side are you on? Which colors do you wear? One almost feels the same pressure that one would feel choosing a religion or political party.
The criteria, in my opinion, for entering this pantheon of the best ever is simple. If there is any debate whatsoever about including your name on the list, you aren’t good enough. The first five on this list are no-brainers, but what about Manning and Brady? They have been receiving unbelievable amounts of press lately and have been dubbed by some as not only among the best ever, but actually the best ever. There are good arguments for this assertion.
The argument for Manning is simple: he is a better version of Dan Marino. In just eight and a half seasons in the NFL, Manning has amassed over 35,000 yards passing and 259 touchdown passes, compared to Marino’s 420 touchdown passes with over 61,000 pass yards in 16 NFL seasons. While Manning’s statistics are comparable (if not superior), it is the opportunity of winning an NFL championship that may ultimately separate him from Marino, who never won a Super Bowl. Blessed with a rifle arm and pinpoint accuracy, Manning’s intelligence is what separates him from the rest of the pack. That intelligence may be the factor that carries his Colts team over the hump to Super Bowl glory.
The argument for Brady is just as simple: he is a better version of Joe Montana. While Montana had over 40,000 yards and 273 touchdown passes, Brady is at over 19,000 yards with 137 touchdown passes in just seven seasons. More importantly, however, is Brady’s three super bowl rings to Montana’s four. If Brady stays on pace, as weird as it sounds, he really will end up a better version of Montana.
It is important to note that the arguments here are obviously dependant on what happens over the next decade or so. Either QB could go down with a career-ending injury next week, rendering these arguments moot. Nonetheless, assuming both stay healthy and productive, these arguments lead to another question: Which quarterback is better?
Comparing the two, the differences are obvious. Manning is the statistical juggernaut who just hasn’t been able to win the big one (much like Elway midway through his career and Marino throughout). Brady is the clutch king with numerous game-winning playoff drives and three championships before turning thirty. How are they even comparable? The truth is the argument ultimately comes down to winning versus statistics, which is an argument that will never be settled. Maybe Manning will win a few titles like Elway did late in his career to make his resum?e simply impeccable. Perhaps Brady will get a few more rings to show off before he’s done. Either way, one thing is for certain…I’d take Favre over both of them (3 MVPs, 55,000+ yards, 406 TDs and a title to boot). Go figure.