Google "Peyton Manning" and you get a plethora of awards he earned at Tennessee as the starting QB. Google "Tom Brady" and you get a vociferous chorus of numbers crunching that that masks the unlikelihood of a collegiate bench warmer making it in the NFL.
The College Boys
When Peyton was a boy, he grew up playing football as part of ensemble cast: older brother Cooper was a high school football star and younger brother Eli was the always eager tadpole brother wanting to play every game with his older brothers. Of these three, Peyton would become the big college star at Tennessee.
He began his college football career as a freshman third-string quarterback behind Todd Helton and Jerry Colquitt. Helton and Colquitt were taken out of the Mississippi State game and Manning was inserted, finishing the game with a score of 24-21 in a loss. Manning, from then on, would start every game for the Vols until graduation.
In that four years, he won numerous awards including first-team All-American and an ESPY. He was runner-up for the Heisman which was awarded to Charles Woodson, cornerback for the Wolverines.
In the 1998 NFL Draft, Peyton Manning would be selected first overall by the Indianapolis Colts. It would a different story altogether for Tom Brady.
Tom Brady also came from a competitive family. His three older sisters, who call him Tommy, were into all kinds of sports and Tom attended their games as much as he could. On Sundays, the Brady family would go to Candlestick Park and cheer on Joe Montana and the 49ers.
Although Tom and his sisters competed for everything amongst each other, no competition would be more difficult or more trying for Tom Brady than vying for the quarterbacking job at the University of Michigan.
He started playing team football in grade nine at an all-boys Catholic school, Junipero Serra High. After graduation, he accepted a scholarship to the University of Michigan. For two years, Brady was a backup to Brian Griese and Scott Driesbach. Regardless, Brady worked hard to move up the depth chart and as a junior in 1998, he won the starting QB job.
As a junior he was named All-Big Ten Conference honorable mention and Academic All-Big Ten Pick for his 3.3 GPA. He set the record for most pass attempts (350) and completions (214) in school history. In his senior year, he shared the top job with Drew Henson.
During his time at the U of M, the Wolverines won the Citrus Bowl and the Orange Bowl with Brady under center. But, ironically, Tom Brady would only be the 199th overall pick in the NFL draft and join the New England Patriots as a fourth-string quarterback.
The NFL has many flaws, two of which are overestimating and underestimating players. Take Rick Mirer and Doug Flutie for example. Both were stand-out college QBs, Mirer at Notre Dame and Flutie at Boston College.
Mirer was touted as being the next Joe Montana and was expected to do great things. Instead, he became a journeyman quarterback, bouncing from one team to another. Flutie was drafted into the NFL, but was eventually rejected because of his size.
That proved to be the NFL's mistake as Flutie went to the CFL and won two Grey Cups in Canada. So, how close did the NFL come to making the same mistakes with Manning and Brady? Pretty close.
Manning's rookie season in 1998 culminated in a Colts standing of 3-13 with Manning having thrown 28 interceptions. The only action Brady saw during his 2000 rookie season was three passing attempts, one completion and six yards.
At this point in their respective careers, they seem to have been pretty indistinguishable apart from the notoriety and lack thereof.
Since their respective rookie years, Manning and Brady have had tremendous success. Each have put numbers that most quarterbacks only dream of, the one exception being Brett Favre.
But, unlike Brett Favre and most other QBs, Manning and Brady are perfectionists. The difference, then, between these two masters of the passing game comes down to temperament.
Peyton Manning reminds me of Jimmy Stewart: affable, but dramatic. He has a rocket arm, but he doesn't play to the strengths and weaknesses of his receivers. If he is calm and throwing to someone sure-handed, like Dallas Clark, the ball will be caught. If he is flustered and throwing to a second-stringer, the ball will either get dropped or intercepted.
Manning's passing game, like any QB, is dependent on the O-line. If the O-line is solid and does it's job of protecting him in the pocket, Manning will keep his cool and find a way to overcome his own deficiencies. If he is sacked two times, you can count on the Colts to lose the game.
Manning's problems of late have had more to do with interceptions. Now, Peyton Manning is definitely one of the most accurate passers in the league. The problem has been that defenses can now read him because he is having to direct the "newbie" receivers and those defenses, therefore, can better disrupt the pass.
But when his back is against the wall, Peyton Manning will engineer a comeback better than anyone if he has competent receivers to throw to. It's not the same with Tom Brady.
Tom Brady is like James Bond's martini: shaken, not stirred. Defenses can rush him all day long, but Tom won't let it get to him. Why? For one, he's as cool as a cucumber.
For another thing, Tom Brady has Wes Welker to whom he can make the short passes and get yardage after the run.
And if Peyton Manning had decent receivers and the protection that Brady has, the Colts would be a lock for the AFC South first-seed.
Another thing about Tom Brady that sets him apart from Manning is his approach to the game. Brady sees football as the perfect embodiment of competition: skill, speed, intellect and strength.
Manning's approach to football is more akin to NASCAR: high-octane, no-huddle offense.
One can argue, therefore, that Manning will burn out and Brady will keep running cool. On the other hand, Manning is so physically solid that he often plays injured. We've only seen Brady get injured once and he was out for the season that time.
Looking back, we can see how Brady edges out Manning and Manning's current rash of INT's this season certainly does not help his case. But, this season is a bit of an anomaly for him. Once he gets his receiving corps back next season, Manning will be primed for the running once again.
But, for now (and with three Super Bowl rings on his fingers), Tom Brady reigns supreme.