In every generation we have had the same type of sports debate….whether it was Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling; Mantle v. Maris, Ali v. Frazier, Bradshaw v. Staubach or Bird v. Magic – we are often a nation engaged in a “Who’s better?” running dialogue. Football fans are particularly prone to this type of discussion. We can work ourselves up to near violence deciding on which team of the decade is the best ever, or who’s the best coach or which team is the worst ever. Today I’m weighing in on the discussion du jour.
For the past 13 years or so we have been treated to the quarterback play of two athletes who may ultimately be regarded as the best ever of all time depending upon how they end their respective careers. Of course I am talking about Tony Romo and Mark Sanchez….(calm down it’s a joke), I am speaking of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Oh sure there are idiots who will suggest that neither player is worthy of the distinction but we won’t try to reason with the mentally unstable or with Jets fans. Let’s begin by stating the obvious, the top 10 quarterbacks of the past 13 years are:
1. Tom Brady or Peyton Manning
2. Tom Brady or Peyton Manning
3. Drew Brees
4. Ben Roethlisberger
5. Aaron Rogers
6. Brett Favre
7. Eli Manning
8. Kurt Warner
9. Joe Flaco
10. Phillip Rivers
I have considered players like Cam Newton, RG III, Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Tony Romo. I would be more than happy to explain why none of them deserve to be considered but that will have to wait.
There are two who stand out and only two deserving of consideration as the best of their generation. It seems that we are a football nation divided on the issue; every football “expert” on ESPN weighs in at every opportunity… “it’s Brady, no Bill, it’s Manning….” Most football fans have an opinion, with the possible exception of Jets fans because they are a delusional lot who follow a bad coach, bad players and a really bad team… And on and on it goes, talking heads and fans prattling on incessantly….it looks like it’s fallen to me to end this debate once and for all.
The beauty of these debates is that the analysis is subjective and very few of us can set aside our loyalties. If you are from Indianapolis or Denver you will more likely find fault with Brady’s seeming inability to get a Superbowl win in his last two attempts. There are also the MENSA members who believe that because he’s a “pretty boy” he can’t be the best… If, on the other hand, you’re from New England you will likely focus on the fact that Manning seldom comes through when it counts most. I’d like to set aside partisanship in order to take a close look at the careers of the two greatest quarterbacks of the past 13 years.
Peyton Manning was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts with the first overall pick of the NFL draft in 1998. He played quarterback at Tennessee where he quickly established himself as a future star and he has lived up to the projections. He has been nothing short of remarkable throughout his career winning a Superbowl, making it to two of the NFL’s biggest game and being selected twelve times to the Pro-Bowl. He has proven to be one of the game’s best citizens, he’s never been associated with any on or off the field character issues and with the exception of a year missed due to injury he has never missed a game. He has amassed a stat sheet that is virtually unparalleled with the following career statistics:
His win/loss record is 163-72-0
He has completed 5387 passes on 8238 passing attempts for a career total of 63209 passing yards;
He has thrown for 472 touchdowns and only 216 interceptions which represents a 2.6% interception percentage.
He is a four time Most Valuable Player
He was named the Walter Payton “Man of the Year” in 2008
He was the 2006 SuperBowl MVP
What cannot be fully understood from a review of his career numbers is the fact that when Peyton Manning is playing at his best he has an uncanny ability to read an opposing defense and to deliver the ball where it will cause the most damage. He is one of two players currently playing who you do not want to see if he has the ball and your team is trying to hold a slim lead late in a game. Peyton Manning is without equal in his ability to dismantle opposing defenses.
Then, of course, there’s Tom Brady…
Tom Brady came into the league in a very different way than his nemesis. Brady was a college player at Michigan where he only had significant playing time in two of his four years. He was taken with the 199th pick of the 2000 NFL draft by the New England Patriots, selected after the likes of Chad Pennington, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger and Spergon Wynn in what must be regarded as one of the best draft day steals of all time.
Brady was projected to be a career back-up behind Drew Bledsoe who was then New England’s starter and a 1st overall pick of the team in the 1993 NFL draft. Bledsoe was a fixture in New England credited with bringing the team to one Super Bowl and legitimacy after decades of poor play. Brady did not get his first opportunity to play until Bledsoe suffered a serious injury in a game against the New York Jets during the 2001 season. From that first relief appearance he has not relinquished his control over the team and, in many respects, the entire NFL. His career statistics are in many respects equal to or better than Manning’s:
His team’s record while he plays in 144-42-0
He has completed 4055 passes on 6388 attempts for a completion percentage of 63.5
He has thrown for 40702 yards
He has thrown 130 interceptions and 351 touchdowns. He has an interception percentage of 2%.
Brady has won three Super Bowls
He is an 8 time Pro Bowl selection,
He is a two-time League MVP
He is a two-time Super Bowl MVP.
He’s been named NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2009 after missing all but one game of the 2008 season with a serious knee injury.
Like Peyton Manning, Brady has been an ideal citizen having no on or off the field character issues. He is married to a Supermodel and is quickly developing into something of a fashion model in his own right. Like Manning, Brady is the master of the late game come back, and he is widely regarded as Manning’s equal in deciphering opposing defenses.
As you can plainly see, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are virtually indistinguishable in terms of their career accomplishments. Ok so it is really not possible for us to conclude who is better based upon these numbers. So let’s look at their playoff numbers for surely that’s where we’ll find the answer that will, for once and all, end the who’s better debate:
Brady: 18 wins, 7 losses
Manning: 9 wins, 11 losses
Brady: 553 completions on 887 attempts (62.3%) for 5949 yards for 42 touchdowns and 22 interceptions
Manning: 481 completions 761 attempts (63.2%) for 5679 yards for 32 touchdowns and 21 interceptions
The most significant distinction is in the win/loss column, and the numbers there favor Brady, but is that a fair determining factor or are those statistics more reflective of the overall team play, the opponents faced and the coaching staff? Where Brady has an edge is that he’s thrown a smaller percentage of interceptions by a considerable margin. On this point-advantage Brady. But Mannning has thrown for more yards per game. I’m beginning to get a headache.
The one statistic that clearly favors Brady is in the “head to head” games. Brady and, in fairness to Manning, his team are 10-4 when they’ve matched up against each other. Brady also has played his entire career outdoors in the not so warm confines of Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium where late season and play-off conditions can be horrendously cold. Manning, on the other hand, played a good percentage of his games in a climate controlled dome in Indianapolis. He is now playing in Denver where the winter weather is an ever present concern.
So here it is, Peyton Manning is a better quarterback…no wait, it’s Tom Brady…but what about Manning’s great vision….but what about Brady’s greater arm strength and his mastery of the comeback…..ARRRRRRRRGGGHHH….
Look, you can’t go wrong with either of these great players…stop debating this riddle and just enjoy the greatness of both players as they wind down their careers; be grateful that you are not a fan of the New York Jets or that Tony Romo isn’t your team’s quarterback.
Next week we’ll discuss why Pete Carroll is so dislikeable as a human being and why Rex Ryan still has a job. Oh, before I forget, a little bonus for you….the worst team in pro football is either….the New York Jets or….hell… I can’t even say it with a straight face….everyone knows it’s the New York Jets.