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Peyton Manning had a greater impact on the game than Tom Brady

The decision by Tom Brady to retire on Wednesday ends what will long be considered one of the most elite careers in team sports. However, the seven-time Super Bowl winner didn’t have near the impact on the game of football that Peyton Manning did.

Manning didn’t have as much team success and doesn’t hold the key passing records like Brady, but he altered the way the NFL is played to this very day. Thanks to his tutelage by former Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, Manning was adept at getting to the line of scrimmage with at least two plays called.

He would then signal which play that his team would run, whether it was with the Indianapolis Colts or Denver Broncos. That proved tough to stop as he won a Super Bowl with each team.

Brady and every other quarterback picked up on what was called a “freeze” play call at Tennessee. What Manning did first in 1998, his first season in the NFL, is now common practice.

No one knew that would be the case when Manning threw 28 interceptions during his rookie season. In fact, his own coach, Jim Mora, seemed disenchanted with Manning. Mora lost that battle with team management and was replaced by Tony Dungy, who allowed Manning to do his thing.

Manning also pushed Brady to be better. Sure, Brady won the lion’s share of the battles between the two, but Manning had a far different challenge than Brady. First, he had to overcome Mora. Second, he didn’t have a defensive genius as his head coach.

Brady had that with Bill Belichick throughout his career until he went to Tampa to play for the Buccaneers, where he won one Super Bowl with an all-star team. Manning, on the other hand, had to fight tooth-and-nail, as well as a neurological issue in his throwing arm, to win his second Super Bowl, with the Denver Broncos.

Had Manning and Brady begun their careers later in the evolution of the NFL, Manning may have won more championships. The NFL is pass happy now and seems more fitting for a team like the Colts in the 2000s that was built around its offense instead of the Patriots, which were built around their defense for most of Brady’s championship years.

Tom Brady beat Peyton Manning 11 of the 17 times they played. That’s a margin that’s hard to overlook. However, the deck – and fate – was stacked in Brady’s favor.

Years from now, one might look at the head-to-head matchups, the records and the championships and deem Manning a distant runner up to Brady in this era of football. However, that’s far too simplistic. Manning could have had the same success as Brady had their situations been reversed. 

There is one aspect of Manning’s career that will forever be questioned, largely because of Brady. When discussing the two, Brady’s ability to succeed in key moments will always be favored over Manning.

Nobody can question that Brady was one of the most “clutch” performers in the history of the NFL. Manning was questioned about his performances in the most pressing moments dating back to his losses against Florida in college.

The NFL world is already hunting for the next great quarterback rivalry. Patrick Mahomes. Josh Allen. Joe Burrow. Jalen Hurts. Perhaps a duo among those will battle it out for a decade or more.

However, the chances of seeing two quarterbacks match a rivalry like Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, one changing the game and one winning more Super Bowls than ever dreamed possible, simply will not happen anytime soon.  

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