Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. They are arguably two of the greatest athletes ever and each are certainly in the discussion for best NFL quarterback of all-time. My friend Gary Myers, a longtime sports writer, just released a book, Brady vs Manning: The Untold Story of the Rivalry That Transformed the NFL, where he takes a deep-dive into the comparison of these two legends.
Brandon Steiner: Why did you write this book? Who is this book for?
Gary Meyers: My goal was to find a compelling way to tell the story of this era of the NFL, when it has reached levels of popularity and profitability never before achieved in sports. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have been the two best players of the last 20 years and their rivalry is the best in NFL history. The NFL is such a team sport that rivalries are most often teams vs. teams. The Cowboys and the Steelers of the ‘70s, for example, or the Patriots and Colts in the first 10 years of this century.
But Manning vs. Brady defines this era. They have played against each other 16 times, including four times in the playoffs. Brady leads 11-5; they are 2-2 in the playoffs. Dan Marino and John Elway, by contrast, played against each other just three times – only once in the playoffs -- in the 16 years they were in the league at the same time and two of those meetings came in Elway’s final season in 1998.
This is book is not just for football fans. Brady and Manning, as a result of their success and popularity, transcend sports. They are national figures. This book takes the reader behind the scenes to not only reveal aspects of their personality, but the close friendship they share and their incredible rivalry.
BS: As an NFL correspondent, how is covering Brady and Manning different from other players?
GM: It has reached the point that when I cover one of their games that I expect some milestone to be reached or they add another layer to how they will be remembered. After games, Manning tends to be more expansive of what happened during the previous three hours than Brady. But I think Brady holds back a bit because that’s the way Bill Belichick wants it. Either way, it has to fun to watch them play.
BS: What did you learn about Brady that went against your expectations going into the writing process? And for Manning?
GM: People link Brady to Belichick and the “Evil Empire” of the Patriots and figure he is just an extension of Belichick. That was partly my perception before I was able to get to know him better during the two years of this book project. For sure, Brady is the most important player Belichick has ever had. But away from the Patriots facility, I found him to be personable, forthcoming and cooperative. I was surprised at how much he is still motivated by what happened to him at Michigan – he didn’t start until the fourth of his five years in the program – and how he takes nothing for granted.
I found Manning much more guarded than I anticipated. I first met him the day before he was drafted in 1998 and have been around him a lot for the last 17 years. It took some work on my part to get him to cooperate to be interviewed. He is much more corporate than Brady and at the start of this process I thought it would be the other way around.
BS: Is there a comparable set of on-field rivals in another sport that you would say are similar to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning?
GM: Bird vs. Magic. Russell vs. Wilt. Ali vs. Frazier. Mantle vs. Mays. Palmer vs. Nicklaus.
BS: How have Tom Brady and Peyton Manning changed the quarterback position and changed the game of football overall?
GM: Football players perform with a helmet on and are often considered nameless and faceless. They are considered replaceable parts and often unrecognizable because it’s hard to see their faces when they are playing. Despite this, Manning is one of the most well-known athletes of all time. He has probably done more endorsements than any player in any sport. Brady leads a high-profile life with his supermodel wife Gisele Bunchen and is recognized all over the world.
Manning’s ability to audible and call the plays from the shotgun has confused defenses for years. He truly became a coach on the field and has more responsibility than any quarterback in the game. He has shown coaches, who like to control everything, that with the right quarterback they can relinquish some of their own responsibility and put the game back in the hands of the players.
Brady has never played with great skill position players around him except for a brief time with Randy Moss and now with Rob Gronkowski. He has proven that a great quarterback can raise the level of players around him. Brady has taken average talent and helped make them great. Two examples: Wes Welker and Julian Edelman.
BS: Talk about Brady’s climb from the bottom of the draft to NFL-icon status. How did he “climb the ladder?"
GM: I devoted an entire chapter in the book to Brady’s struggles at Michigan. Despite a 20-5 record as Michigan’s starter his final two years, he was a sixth round draft pick in 2000. He was the 199th player picked – the seventh quarterback overall and the seventh player taken by New England. He was fourth on the Patriots depth chart after training camp his rookie year and teams almost never keep four QBs. But there was something about Brady that Belichick really liked and he didn’t want to take a chance that if he cut him, he would be claimed before he could put him on the practice squad. By the start of his second season, Brady has moved up to second string behind Drew Bledsoe. He actually outplayed Bledsoe over the summer, and under different circumstances, Belichick might have opened the season with him as the starter. But owner Robert Kraft loved Bledsoe and just signed him to a $100 million contract. And Belichick incurrent the wrath of Cleveland fans when he demoted and then cut local icon Bernie Kosar when he was the coach of the Browns. Belichick didn’t want to go through that again with Bledsoe. But when Bledsoe suffered a serious chest injury in the second game of the 2001 season, it gave Belichick the opportunity to play Brady, and he went on that season to win the first of his four Super Bowls and first of his three Super Bowl MVPs.
BS: Talk about Manning’s ascent to NFL-icon status amidst the heightened expectations for his career. How was he able to live up to and exceed them?
GM: Brady has fought for everything he’s earned. Manning was born into football royalty as the son of Archie Manning, the best quarterback never to make the playoffs. But being a Manning didn’t guarantee success. Manning was so gifted that it didn’t matter what his last name was. He came into the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick of the 1998 draft by the Colts. They were just 3-13 his rookie year, but he immediately turned it around to 13-3 his second year. He will likely retire with more victories than any quarterback in NFL history. He has been surrounded by great talent – Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, Demaryious Thomas – but he also makes players better. Brady didn’t play a snap his freshman year in high school even though his team was 0-8 and didn’t score an offensive touchdown. He had to send out tapes to get colleges interested. Manning was overwhelmed by scholarship offers. They have taken different paths but wound up in the same place as two of the all-time greats.
BS: In 20 years when these two are both in the Hall of Fame, what will people say when they look back on their careers? Will one be ahead of the other?
I think Manning is the greatest regular season player, not just quarterback, in NFL history. I think Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history, because you have to factor in January and the first Sunday in February. Brady leads Manning in Super Bowl appearances 6-3. He leads in rings 4-1. When two quarterbacks have been as great as Manning and Brady, the tie-breaker has to be Super Bowl championships. My top QBs of all time: Brady, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Manning, Elway.
Brady will be remembered as one of the best big-game players in NFL history. Manning will be remembered as an incredible player who didn’t win as many championships as he should have.
BS: Thank you, Gary.