No one can talk about sports, and definitely not about football, history without mentioning Tom Brady and Peyton Manning multiple times.
And even though they’re by no means as mobile as modern-day quarterbacks are, they’ll continue to be the blueprint in terms of success, work ethic, passing skills, and ability to overcome adversities. Résumés and stats aside, it’s hard to make a case for someone else being the undisputed No. 1 and No. 2 greatest quarterbacks of all time. As for who should rank first? That’s for everyone to make his choice.
We see rivalries like Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow today, and while that’s exciting and should only get better as the years go by, chances are that we’ll never get to see another rivalry like Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, at least not in this beautiful sport.
But how did it all start, and who got the ultimate bragging rights over the other? Let’s break it down.
Friends And Foes
Following a dismal rookie season, Peyton Manning, who according to Clutchbet is one of the best Broncos players of all time, finally established himself as the elite quarterback prospect he seemed during his days with the Tennessee Volunteers.
By the time Tom Brady made his first career start, Manning was already an up-and-coming marquee name in the game.
Looking back, the New England Patriots legend admitted to being kind of starstruck when Peyton reached out to him at first. He confessed that he looked up to him after watching what he had achieved in college and the pro level:
“I remember running out there on the field, you came up right to me, you say ‘Hey Tom, Peyton Manning.’ I was like no s**t. But at the same time, it meant a lot to me. You know, I’d always looked up to you because you’re older than me. You’re still older, but I always looked up to you because you were the standard that everyone wanted to achieve. So look, I still remember that to this day,” Brady once said.
Despite being on opposite sides of the field, Manning and Brady always had nothing but words of praise and respect for the other. In fact, the then-Indianapolis Colts star once reached out to Brady so he could be ‘safe’ having dinner in Boston, where he wasn’t really welcome because of his rivalry with the Patriots:
“I was in Boston one time and I was like, ‘Tom, I don’t want to leave my hotel. They’re gonna shoot me. They’re gonna beat me up. Can you come and pick me up and take me out to dinner? Nobody’s gonna hurt me if I’m with you,’” Manning joked. “It was just kind of different. I’d see him at the Kentucky Derby every single year so [the friendship] just kind of grew throughout the years and then obviously, big games, playoff games, that just kind of added to it.”
Every single thing they did wasn’t good in a vacuum; it was always compared to what the other did. Manning was the undisputed best quarterback of the regular season, and he was often deemed the best QB in the game. Then, he fell flat in the playoffs, which is where Brady rose to the occasion and thrived:
“If I performed well, it never meant anything against anyone else,” Brady said. “People inside barber shops and on talk shows, they always make it this against that. They compare things that are completely ridiculous. But when you’re in the arena and you’re one of the competitors, you don’t do those things. I never wanted to be better than Peyton Manning. I just wanted to be the best I could be.
Brady always had the upper hand in terms of championships and postseason success, and Peyton needed to wait until his second team and final year in the league to win his second Super Bowl. Even so, Brady always knew that Manning would’ve been most people’s choice if they had to choose one or the other:
“Any year, any football team would take Peyton Manning as their starting quarterback. There’s probably five or 10 of us that played that way. Who’s better? I don’t know. (It’s like asking,) What do you like to eat? Some person likes this. Some person likes that. It’s not petty because there’s a respect that you know how hard it was for Peyton to do what he did. I recognize that.”
Manning shocked the NFL scene by leaving the Colts after 13 years with the organization. And while he had plenty of offers from NFC teams, he didn’t want to avoid Brady and just face him in the Super Bowl; he wanted to earn the right to get to the big game by taking down Brady before that:
“I easily could’ve gone to a couple of NFC teams. I played against Tom a bunch and I knew eventually you’re gonna have to play them. Let me at least try to earn it,” Manning told Ari Meirov.
Careers In Numbers
At the end of the day, Manning retired with a whopping 71,940 passing yards, 539 touchdowns, and 251 interceptions. He won two Super Bowls, one Super Bowl MVP, 5 MVPs, two NFL Offensive Player of the Year awards, led the league in passing yards three times, four times in passing touchdowns, three times in passer rating, and twice in completion percentage. He also holds the records for most passing TD in a season (55), most passing yards in a season (5,477), and most passing TD in a game (7).
As for Brady, he threw for 89,214 yards, 649 touchdowns, and 212 interceptions. He won a record seven Super Bowls with five Super Bowl MVPs, 3 MVPs, two NFL Offensive Player of the Year awards, led the league in passing touchdowns 5 times, four times in passing yards, twice in passing rating, and once in completion percentage. He also holds the records for most quarterback wins (251), passing attempts (12,050), passing completions (7,753), passing touchdowns (649), passing yards (89,214), most completions in a season (490), most attempts in a season (733), and longest touchdown pass (99 yards).
As for the bragging rights, Brady holds an 11-6 edge over Manning all time, although Peyton did beat him 3 out of 5 times in the playoffs. So, who’s the best? Would you go with the most talented or with the most accomplished? Fortunately, you can’t go wrong either way.