Manning vs. Wilson: Matchup of Super Bowl QBs truly a study in contrasts
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com | @ricktelander January 21, 2014 10:24PM
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Updated: January 22, 2014 9:49AM
I love this quarterback matchup for Super Bowl XLVIII.
We’ve got two vastly different captains at the helm: grizzled, guaranteed Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, soon to be 38, for the Broncos and second-year pup Russell Wilson, 25, for the Seahawks.
If I may use a medical metaphor here, Manning is the NFL’s stately surgeon general, while Wilson is the hyperactive family doctor, always on call.
As proof there are more ways than one to skin a cat — or remove an opponent’s heart — Wilson’s accurate but not overly strong arm, combined with his quick feet and swift mind, enabled him to tie an NFL record for touchdown passes by a rookie with 26 in 2012.
Whom did he tie? Manning, of course.
Manning, a 16-year veteran, is a brilliant, all-seeing, jabbering micromanager who is the king of his small but designated space. At the line of scrimmage, he does more shouting, pointing and moving about than a man under attack by fire ants. Then he becomes still and is more accurate with his scalpel than a brain surgeon removing a tangled clot.
Manning’s stats this season — a record 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns — are ridiculous under any circumstances. Then imagine doing it two seasons removed from taking an entire season off to rehab from four neck surgeries, and you realize what a genius this dude is.
What Manning sees as he goes through his pre-snap frenzy, then searches downfield while patting the ball, must resemble what androids see on computer screens in alien movies. To be a Manning-targeted defender must feel like being a movie bad guy who suddenly notices a red laser beam trained on his chest.
In the AFC Championship Game on Sunday against the Patriots, Manning wanted points just before the first half ended. He swiftly drove the Broncos 73 yards, completing six consecutive passes to five receivers, to set up a field goal that gave them a 13-3 lead.
Unlike Manning, whose status as a great quarterback is a given, Wilson is still an unknown. More than a field manager, he isn’t yet a superstar. He hasn’t looked great in recent games, but he has been consistent in his brief career: 3,000-plus passing yards in each of his two seasons with excellent ratings of 100.0 and 101.6.
The young man always has been doubted because he doesn’t look like a quarterback. Manning is 6-5 and 230 pounds; Wilson is only 5-11, 200. Yet he can move like Steve Young, Doug Flutie and Michael Vick. He has more than 1,000 yards rushing in two seasons, and his ability to buy time or take off makes him dangerous to blitz.
Wilson has realized that he is playing behind one of the NFL’s great defenses, which was nearly invincible in the Seahawks’ noise cauldron known as CenturyLink Field. So he hasn’t needed to be as daring as he would be if he were, say, playing behind the Bears’ defense, a virtual sieve.
CenturyLink Field isn’t coming with him to New Jersey, though, so he might feel a little like Dumbo without his magic feather in the frozen Meadowlands swamp.
Yet simply making it to the Super Bowl puts Wilson in the mix to become a legendary quarterback. He could do little and win (Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson), he could lose and vanish (Stan Humphries, Chris Chandler and Rex Grossman) or he could be on his way to the Hall of Fame (Manning, Young and Drew Brees).
Common sentiment has been that the game has progressed offensively to the point where caretaker quarterbacks can’t win championships. That might be true. But there is no question the quarterback position, even if the role mainly involves seeing the big picture and not making mistakes, is by far the most important in the game.
Twenty-six Super Bowl MVPs have been quarterbacks, including seven of the last 10. And what a list it is: Joe Flacco, Eli Manning (twice), Aaron Rodgers, Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Does Wilson belong in that group, or will Dr. Manning carve up the Seahawks’ defense and reduce Wilson to a stunned observer?
Can’t wait to find out.