Peyton Manning: The greatest of all time?

Peyton Manning: The greatest of all time?

In the all-time sense, the debate for the greatest quarterback to ever play the game of football boils down to two names: Brady and Manning. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have both had magical football careers, certainly enough for each to earn the notion of being a first-ballot Hall of Fame player. However, the statistical anomalies and prestigious success of Peyton Manning truly outweighs that of his all-time foe and arch-rival. The true dominant and accolade-winning nature of Manning’s game rightfully highlights him as simply the best quarterback to step foot on NFL turf. 

As the first pick in the draft, Tennessee standout Peyton Manning caught his groove early in the NFL. After an abysmal rookie season, Peyton and the Indianapolis Colts had improved to a massive extent, making the playoffs in his next three seasons. When Tony Dungy was hired as head coach, the Colts were unstoppable in the league. Peyton Manning’s brilliance at the quarterback position would lead Indianapolis to ten consecutive AFC South division titles, establishing Manning as an all-time phenomenal player in the league. 

Manning reached his first AFC Championship by 2004 and returned for the next two years until he finally won in 2006. In the bright lights of the Super Bowl, Manning and the Colts beat the Chicago Bears. As the Super Bowl MVP, Peyton Manning had captured his ring at last. 

After the Super Bowl victory, Peyton’s story was far from over. He continued his rampage of the NFL with another MVP-caliber season in 2009, as the Colts advanced to the Super Bowl once more. Although Indianapolis lost a nail-biter to New Orleans, the Colts still had much to be positive about. 

In 2011; however, this all went downhill. Peyton suffered a season-ending neck injury, causing the Colts to draft Andrew Luck as they let Manning walk in free agency. Peyton decided to sign with the Denver Broncos, a move that would pay off. In 2013, Manning set various single-season passing records for Denver en route to a 13-3 season and Super Bowl appearance. After a tough loss versus Seattle, Peyton’s age became a question. However, he responded well. An impressive bounce-back season saw the Broncos go 12-4 and reach the divisional playoff round, although the squad fell short to Peyton’s former team. 

The following season, Manning battled injury after injury, causing him to miss his first start at quarterback since before the 21st century. However, he battled with grit and intensity to retake the starting job right as the playoffs began. The Broncos beat Tom Brady’s Patriots in the AFC Championship for the second time in three years to advance to Super Bowl 50. In a matchup against Cam Newton (the league MVP), the Broncos escaped with a win, earning Manning his second Super Bowl ring. Finally, after eighteen long years in the league, Manning called it quits and retired the following offseason. His final moments in the NFL were of him celebrating as a Super Bowl champion. 

Peyton Manning’s career is decked out in awards. Manning is remembered by most as one of the best record-setters of all time. He won five MVP awards along with two OPOY (offensive player of the year) awards, solidifying Manning as a top throwing talent in history. He also made the Pro Bowl 14 times, with his only misses due to injury or playing in the Super Bowl. He picked up Comeback Player of the Year in 2012 following his neck injury as well as Walter Payton Man of the Year for community service in 2005, two awards that Tom Brady never won. With a Super Bowl MVP to top it off, Peyton Manning’s career was significantly prolific in statistic categories. 

Yes, Tom Brady has won six Super Bowls. However, this cannot simply be attributed to Brady himself, as one player is unable to single-handedly win games in football. In Brady’s first three Super Bowls—2001, 2003, and 2004—Tom was nothing more than a game manager for the Patriots, as the coaching staff relied on other stars for the main production. Kicker Adam Vinatieri won the first two with game-winning field goals. Brady looked the 2008 Super Bowl right in the eye after going undefeated all season, only to lose to an extremely inferior New York Giants team that hadn’t even won its division. Being on the losing end of the greatest upset of all time speaks volumes to the lack of resilience from the Patriots and more specifically, Tom Brady. 

Brady would reach the Super Bowl again in 2011, where they faced the Giants again. As heavy favorites, Brady and the Patriots blew a late-game lead and ultimately lost to Eli Manning and New York yet again. Brady played extremely poorly, getting called for intentional grounding for a safety and throwing a crucial interception down the stretch. 

The Patriots were champions again in 2014; however, the Seattle Seahawks threw a historically-painful interception and will be remembered as one of the worst play calls of all time. Had logic been applied, Brady and his squad would have lost three consecutive Super Bowls. 

The Patriots won again in 2017, thanks to an impressive comeback by New England. However, the Atlanta Falcons held a 28-9 lead in the fourth quarter, as they beat themselves more than anything. In 2019, Brady won his sixth Super Bowl title. Brady was nowhere near the headline of the game, as the defense held the Rams to 3 points. Brady threw two interceptions and one touchdown. 

Tom Brady has arguably had the most efficient and successful coaching staff in history surrounding him for most of his career. Even so, Brady and the Patriots have struggled to keep a clean reputation. The team was accused of spying on an opponent in 2008, only to give up the biggest upset in sports history. New England was also cited for intentionally deflating footballs in the 2014 playoffs to gain a competitive advantage. In both instances, Tom Brady did his “time”, sitting out the first four games of each following season. As a result, major credit has been removed from the Patriots’ success in the eyes of many. 

Peyton Manning experienced the incoming of five different coaches over the course of his career as opposed to just two from Brady. In the first season of each coach’s tenure with Manning, the five teams had a combined record of 56-24. It is clear that Peyton’s play and skillset were a focal point for his team’s gameplan, whereas Brady’s team gameplans were a focal point for his play and skillset. Tom Brady had the luxury of playing 16 years in the most prestigious system of all time, while Peyton battled to keep a consistent coaching staff while putting up even better numbers than Brady.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are the league’s two most elite quarterbacks of all time, yet Manning has proved with his astounding play that he is truly the BEST player to line up behind the center. 

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Check out Tate’s column for why Tom Brady is the GOAT!

Tom Brady: the greatest quarterback of all time?