If you were to build the perfect quarterback from scratch, the end result might look like Peyton Manning.
Blessed with ideal size to play the position, an unmatched knowledge for the game, and a storied football pedigree, it’s easy to see how he has evolved into one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time.
Though his arm strength has dropped off a bit in recent years, and he’s never been the most fleet of foot, his other physical attributes more than make up for his deficiencies.
Manning’s skill set and hard work have led to him setting just about every passing record at the University of Tennessee, and his accomplishments in the NFL read a mile long.
The son of University of Mississippi legend and former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning, the younger Manning was drafted first overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998, and is also a four-time NFL MVP and one-time Super Bowl MVP.
Should he return healthy next season, Manning will join Brett Favre as the only other quarterback in league history to throw 500 touchdowns passes in his career – and he will surpass Favre with ease when all is said and done.
But despite all the talent, passing records, and accolades, he has a history of falling short in big games.
Manning owns an 11-11 record lifetime in the playoffs, compared to 167-73 in the regular season, and his teams have been eliminated eight times in 13 trips to the postseason without even winning a game and advancing to the next round.
Even while in college at Tennessee, Manning’s 0-3 record as a starter against the rival Florida Gators constantly raised the question of just how clutch he is.
His one Super Bowl ring at least quieted the crowd who compared him to another incredibly talented quarterback who never won a championship, Dan Marino, but Manning will likely never stop hearing about Tom Brady’s three Super Bowl rings in comparison until he wins another ring or two of his own.
Whenever the debate arises of which quarterback someone would rather have, whether justified or not, Manning’s lack of rings often leads to people choosing Brady instead.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Manning’s opponent in the Super Bowl, has a wealth of talent himself. But his physical stature has always been a concern, he never received much national acclaim as an amateur, and his father practiced law rather than to throw a spiral.
Coming out of high school, Wilson was not the big-time recruit that Manning was and got severely overlooked as a result.
Wilson played well but didn’t set the college world on fire while attending North Carolina State University, or when he transferred to Wisconsin for his senior season after essentially losing his starting job to current Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon.
Drafted out of high school by the Baltimore Orioles, he also played baseball while at NC State, before being drafted again by the Colorado Rockies in 2010.
This time, Wilson signed a professional baseball contract, and spent two seasons playing minor league baseball in the Rockies organization.
Questions about Wilson’s height and how it would affect his ability to play quarterback at the next level made baseball seem like a legitimate career option, although he decided to quit playing baseball in 2012 to focus on the NFL Draft.
While few doubted just how talented Wilson was when entering the draft, apprehension over him being undersized caused him to fall to the Seahawks in the third round.
The Seahawks were greatly rewarded for taking a chance on Wilson as he won the starting job in the preseason of his rookie year, even though Seattle had signed free agent quarterback Matt Flynn to a lucrative contract just a few months prior.
Wilson has a very long way to go before he catches up to the achievements of Manning, but his 24-8 record in the regular season and an appearance in the Super Bowl in just his second year are certainly promising signs at this stage in his career.
Any worries about Wilson’s size have since been quieted in emphatic fashion.
Coming from contrasting backgrounds, and taking two completely different roads to get here, Manning and Wilson find themselves more alike than they might think.
Two gifted talents that any team would be lucky to have, they both stand just a win away from proving a lot of people wrong and silencing the one lingering doubt that has overshadowed their triumphs.