Tom Brady and Eli Manning: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Picking between Brady and Manning isn't an easy task

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    AP

    You don't need to look far to find differences between Tom Brady and Eli Manning.

    Just start with the superficial. Brady is married to a supermodel, hangs out with the jet set on both coasts and carries himself like a superstar. Manning is married to his college sweetie, lives in Hoboken and seems uninterested in attending any film premiere other than the one of next week's opponent.

    They got to the NFL in very different ways as well. Brady had to bide his time behind Brian Griese at Michigan and then had to split time with Drew Henson, even though it was clear he could handle the starting quarterback job all on his own. He lasted until the sixth round despite leading the Wolverines to an Orange Bowl win and needed Jets linebacker Mo Lewis to knock Drew Bledsoe's lights out to get a shot with New England.

    Manning was born with a silver football in his hand. His father was a star quarterback, his older brother was a star quarterback and he walked onto the Ole Miss campus as a starter. He thrived there and, thanks to the machinations of father Archie, wound up in New York as the first overall pick after a megadeal with the Chargers.

    Those circumstances began to switch once they hit the NFL. Brady won the Super Bowl in his first year as a starter and added two more titles in the next three years to cement his status as one of the best to ever play the game. In Boston, he was up on pedestal next to Williams, Bird, Russell and Orr before his career ever really took off. 

    Manning's legacy has taken longer to build. He's gone from golden boy to disappointment with a famous last name to good enough to win a Super Bowl with a great defense back to disappointment who throws too many interceptions and, finally, to the beloved "You can't spell elite without Eli" who led the Giants back to the big game with his best season ever.

    There's truth in all those labels, but more than a little hyperbole as well. He was never that bad and, for all his success this season, he's not on the level of Brady (or his brother, for that matter). Manning is the biggest reason why the Giants are in the Super Bowl this season and the team wouldn't have survived without him while they were patching together the defense, but it bears mentioning that the Patriots' defense was just as bad while winning 13 games during the regular season.

    And that's the way it has been throughout the careers of these two quarterbacks. Manning has had moments of great brilliance, but he's never had anything close to the sustained success that Brady has put together in the NFL. The stat trotted out most often these days to talk about Manning's intangible "eliteness" is that he's won five playoff games on the road.

    Brady has only played five road playoff games in his entire career because his teams win so often that they don't need to go on the road once the postseason rolls around. Winning gets too much airplay in discussions about quarterback ability -- Dan Marino is better than Jim Plunkett, Doug Williams, Brad Johnson and most other guys who have won a Super Bowl, in case you didn't already know -- but shouldn't winning games all the time count when you're making these imaginary lists?

    That's not a knock on Manning. It's just a reminder that for all of the deserved accolades lavished on him for his play during the five-game winning streak, Brady is riding a 10-game streak into this game. Eli's the fresh new thing right now, stepping out of his brother's shadow and performing as the unquestioned leader of his team for the first time on the big stage. Brady is old news, but the news hasn't become worse news just because something shiny has come bouncing along.

    Ultimately, all those differences in style and narrative don't amount to much. Both of them are playing at the top of their games right now and that's really all that matters when looking ahead to Sunday. Both men have proven their mettle in the crucible of the fourth quarter, both men have shown they can take over a game and neither one has proven so unflappable that they won't possibly make a mistake that hurts their team.

    Basically, any argument you can make for one, stripped of context that includes their teammates and opponents, is an argument you can make for the other guy. You can go round and round, but the end result is that bad quarterback play isn't likely to be the determining factor in Super Bowl XLVI.