In the world of the NFL, there is almost no bigger rivalry than the one that exists between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. They are two first ballot Hall of Famers, in the same generation. These two spark a constant debate as to the greatest quarterback of our time, and sometimes, the greatest to ever play the game. Both men have pursued excellence in the course of their careers but in much different ways. Why has this pursuit of excellence by these men sparked such competitiveness? Based off of this pursuit and sense of competition, which one truly is better?
Peyton is renowned for his ability to cold read a defense at the line of scrimmage and for how accountable he holds himself and his teammates. Peyton also holds multiple records for quarterbacks, such as being the all time leader in passing touchdowns with 515 and counting or being NFL MVP five seasons. He is widely considered a player-coach, although coach-player may be more accurate. This level of excellence that Peyton has achieved is incredible but, it stems from his high work ethic and level of preparation. Peyton’s level of preparation has its roots back to when he was a freshmen at Tennessee, when according to the coach there at the time, Joe Harrington, Peyton asked for the film of every game that UCLA, Tennessee’s season opener that year, played the year before. That is extraordinary. Who watches the film on every single game an opponent played the year before? Peyton Manning, that’s who. This level of preparation seems like it would get old over the years, but not so for Peyton. Most of his teammates will tell you he prepares even more now than ever. Peyton’s work ethic is the highest standard in the pros today. After 15 seasons, he is still up at ten o’clock at night practicing audibles, calls, and signals with his receivers in the hotel. That is a whole other level of getting prepared for a game. All of this preparation is a key component to Peyton’s record setting performances, his ability to read defenses, and his overall greatness and excellence. Following the Broncos loss in Super Bowl XLVIII, teammates spoke to how in the offseason during film study Peyton was the first to own up to his mistakes, not just for the Super Bowl game, but the entire season. How can you hold yourself that accountable, and have the competitive nature to recognize and admit your shortcomings – few that they are- and improve your game from your mistakes? Actually how many guys are willing to do those things? Peyton is, and Tom Brady is.
Tom Brady’s excellence and greatness don’t come from the same things as Peyton. Instead, Brady’s excellence stems mostly from the man’s connection to his teammates, confidence, and unmatched competitive nature. Brady enjoys a tremendous connection to his teammates that comes from the fact that, for all of his greatness and three Super Bowls with one NFL MVP, he is still just another player, not a player-coach like Peyton. Brady gets fired up and excited for his teammates accomplishments. An example is how he sprinted the length of the field to congratulate a teammate on a punt return touchdown. Brady is just another one of the guys, which is something that adds on to his excellence by making his teammates love him, and want to play with him. Brady’s confidence was apparent when the Patriots drafted him. As a rookie, and a sixth round draft pick at that, he had the temerity to walk up to the team owner Robert Kraft, and tell him, “I’m the best decision this organization has ever made.” Having that sheer amount of confidence is just insane. That type of confidence instills confidence in others, and that confidence is a characteristic that makes Brady excellent. The final thing that makes Brady truly excellent and great is the man has the most competitive nature that you will ever see. He hates losing at anything, no matter how trivial. There is a story from one of his former linemen, about a beer chugging contest between the linemen that Brady decided to compete in. Brady won this contest, and proceeded to slam his cup down like he’d just scored a touchdown. Oh, and he paid the tab for his linemen. This competitive nature just goes to further the connection he builds between his teammates and himself. He makes them want to play for him. This is ultimately what makes Tom Brady so excellent and great.
Ultimately this sense of excellence and competition relates to Dunning’s work Dynamics of Modern Sport. This sense of competition between these two athletes and their pursuit of excellence, speaks to Dunning’s thought that our sports as a society are getting farther and farther from amateurism, and more and more competitive. I mean, before these two, there was never really such a comparison between two players of the same era. People would compare guys like Favre and Montana, or even Marino and Montana, but never on the scale that the Brady and Manning rivalry has come to. These two are used as the measuring stick for how good someone actually is these days.
If I had to pick one, the one who is more excellent and the greater competitor, my choice would be Tom Brady. Every single time. And that’s with no disrespect to Peyton. But the two have played against each other in sixteen regular season games and Brady has won eleven to Peyton’s five. Head to head, Brady has consistently won. But past that, Brady just has that something that causes other players to want to play for him. And that, in the NFL, is true excellence in my opinion.