CHANDLER, ARIZ. When comparisons are made, New England’s Tom Brady usually shows up on the short list of great quarterbacks of his generation, alongside Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.
And he often shows up on the list of the all-time greats, in the company of Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and John Elway.
Over the past week, it has been hard not to notice how much he also has in common with Super Bowl rival Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks – or at least vice versa.
Both are wildly exceeding their modest draft positions. Both earned Super Bowl rings early in their careers. Both embrace their roles as faces of their franchises – and what movie-star handsome faces they are.
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Both also are generally cooperative with the media, while seldom saying much that amounts to actual news, let alone controversy.
In that sense, it mustn’t have been an easy week for Brady, who arrived in Arizona as a key figure in the Patriots’ Deflategate controversy, but he pulled it off.
“Tom is a big boy,” said defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, Brady’s teammate since 2004. “He knows how to handle all situations, so he’ll handle this with class like he always does. Negative or positive, he would handle it with class. That’s one thing that makes him so great is how he handles himself off the field and on the field.”
Throughout the week he negotiated the rapids, steering clear of the facts of Deflategate, while sometimes discussing personal angles. He admitted his feelings were hurt by some of the accusations. He said he hopes Patriots owner Robert Kraft will still be proud of him once the investigation concludes.
But mostly, he delivered upbeat assessments of his teammates and opponents – including Wilson.
“He’s a phenomenal player, a phenomenal leader for his team,” Brady said. “… He’s obviously a great competitor. A couple of those overtime games where they’ve gone right down the field and scored, I think that’s all you really need to know about a guy like that. He played great in the Super Bowl last year. I’m sure he’ll be ready to go, so it’s going to be a great matchup.”
There are a few key differences. Brady is the more classic model: 6-foot-4 and comfortable in the pocket. Wilson is around 5-11, and ran for more yards than anyone on the Patriots roster. Brady is 37 and in his 15th NFL season. Wilson is 26 and a third-year pro. Many of the things that Wilson seems to have the potential to do, Brady already has done.
“Tom is the best quarterback in this league,” Patriots running back LaGarrette Blount said. “I feel like he is going to go down in history as the best that ever played this game.
Some similarities are striking.
Neither were high or glamorous draft choices after their Big 10 careers: Brady a sixth-round selection out of Michigan in 2000, Wilson a third-round pick out of Wisconsin 2012.
Both quickly proved how undervalued they were: Brady becoming a starter in his second season, and Wilson in his first.
Both also won Super Bowls in their seconds seasons.
“That happened so fast in my life,” Brady said. “I didn’t quite understand what was going on in that time. I was just a young guy, and then there was only one week from the time we won the AFC Championship Game to the Super Bowl. You’ve got to appreciate the opportunity we have and whatever we’ve got to this point.”
Wilson won the only previous head-to-head meeting: 24-23 in the 2012 regular season. That was the one capped by Richard Sherman asking Brady, “You mad, Bro?”
“What I’ve learned over the years, a lot of guys talk,” Brady said. “What you need to do is go out there and play, back it up. They’ve been able to back it up, so that’s why it works for them. Hopefully, we can go out there and do our talking on the field.”
In the second meeting, the stakes will be far higher.
A second Super Bowl win would raise Wilson into far more rarified air of two-time winners: matching Roger Staubach, Ben Roethlisberger, Jim Plunkett and Bart Starr while moving ahead of legendary quarterbacks such as Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.
“It’s been an exciting three years of my life, but this year has been really special,” Wilson said. “To win the Super Bowl last year, to go against a great quarterback in Peyton Manning who I have so much respect for, plays the game the right way, does it better than anybody could probably ever do it, and then to face Tom Brady this year – two guys that I’ve looked up to since I was a little kid: It’s a tremendous honor.”
Brady is aiming for his fourth Super Bowl victory. No one has won more, and the only two who have that many are Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.
And as Brady ponders that, he sounds a lot like Wilson.
“It’s really a privilege,” he said. “... We’ve had some really good practices, which is always a good thing going into these games. We really want to be as best as we possibly can be because the margin of error against the teams that you’re playing, and especially against the Seahawks, there is no real margin for error. We’re going to have to play our best.”