Hamilton: Tom Brady still edging Peyton Manning

ALL-TIME GREAT: Quarterback Peyton Manning.
ALL-TIME GREAT: Quarterback Peyton Manning.

Comparing the greatest ever players in a sport is always a tough task because games evolve so much from decade to decade.

But football enthusiasts (and that's football of the American NFL kind) get to watch two of the greatest ever quarterbacks compete head to head every year. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are both locks to enter the Hall of Fame and their careers have not just overlapped but have run on parallel lines.

Yesterday was the 14th time the two iconic quarterbacks have met. Brady has been the victor in the bulk of those previous matches, by a margin of nine to four, while Manning had thrown for more metres and touchdowns. This almost entirely sums up their respective careers. Manning has garnered more impressive individual statistics but Brady has the better results with three Super Bowl rings to Manning's one.

The basic synopsis for comparing the pair is that Manning is the better passer but Brady is the better clutch performer. Of course that summation is overly simplistic, illustrated by the fact that it is now nine years since Brady's last ring despite two more trips to the Super Bowl.

Did his "clutchness" just disappear one night or is it simply that other factors have more influence than fans and critics like to admit. Of course it's the latter. No matter how great the quarterback, he is still dependent on receivers making catches, offensive lines that block, a defence that can defend and a coach who can make the right calls.

The truth is that the pair are hard to separate on any number of counts. Manning is slightly better at long passes and has more variety in where he chooses to throw but Brady is the master of the short pass and makes less mistakes (particularly with intercepts).

Manning has the second highest career passing rating of all time (96.8) among quarterbacks with at least 1500 career passing attempts. Brady is fourth at 95.9.

Manning is second only to Brett Favre in touchdowns, passing metres and victories and could well end his career on top while Brady has the best winning percentage of all quarterbacks (Manning is third).

In the "what have you done for me lately" category, it's clearly Manning on top right now. He is on track for his best season ever and to pass the mark for the most touchdowns in a season (held by Brady with 50) and the most passing metres.

Yesterday's game had an added edge because Brady's favourite slot receiver Wes Welker is now playing alongside Manning, in what is a cautionary tale for professional sportsmen. Brady selflessly took a pay cut last season to allow his team to surround him with better players. The Patriots promptly tried to nickel and dime Welker who naturally left for the Denver Broncos so Brady now has worse receivers than he did before he took that pay cut.

As the man who has made his living from catching their passes, Welker is ideally situated to make the call on who he would rather have throwing him the ball. But sensibly he has refused to take the bait while still playing, saying only that "it's like comparing Picasso and Michelangelo".

In the end though, professional sports are about results and Manning probably needs at least one more Super Bowl ring to be thought of as Brady's equal.

The Patriots overcame a 24-0 halftime deficit to beat the Broncos 34-31 in overtime in Foxborough near Boston yesterday. Manning threw for 137 metres and two touchdowns while Brady engineered New England's great escape, throwing for 314m and three touchdowns.

The Press