What Peyton Manning’s Retirement Means to Tom Brady

It's an inconvenient reminder of Brady's own professional mortality.

Photo via AP

Photo via AP

One of the most insightful glimpses into Tom Brady’s psyche was revealed last summer when more than 1,000 of his emails were released because of the NFL Players’ Association’s lawsuit against the league over the Deflategate saga. In one of the messages, Brady evoked his longtime rival Peyton Manning, telling a childhood friend, “I’ve got another 7 or 8 years. He has 2. That’s the final chapter. Game on.”

Football fans have measured Brady and Manning against each other for nearly the entirety of their careers. It’s refreshing to know Brady isn’t any different.

But now, Brady’s barometer is gone. Manning will announce his retirement Monday afternoon, closing the books on a Hall of Fame career that will forever be synonymous with Brady’s. The two quarterbacks have played in 10 Super Bowls over the last 15 years and faced off in the playoffs on five occasions. It’s the end of an era indeed.

“I realized the level of commitment you must have to be great, watching him do it,” Brady told the MMQB‘s Peter King. “I know the time I put in, so I knew the time he had to have put in. It’s not 9 to 5. It’s a lifelong commitment. Football is a sport, it’s an art, it’s a religion. It’s all-encompassing. He mastered it.”

Congratulations Peyton, on an incredible career. You changed the game forever and made everyone around you better. It’s been an honor.

Posted by Tom Brady on Sunday, March 6, 2016

Though Brady and Manning engaged in 21 duels on the field, they were often partners off of it. In 2006, they successfully lobbied the league to let every team provide its own footballs to use on offense. The rule change was advantageous to quarterbacks, because it allowed them to prepare the footballs to their own liking. This helped lead to record-setting offensive production across the league and, ironically, Deflategate.

In 2011, Brady and Manning were two of 10 players who put their names on a lawsuit against the NFL during that year’s work stoppage. Whenever controversy arose, they stood in unison. Manning defended Brady’s character during Deflategate, saying Brady will “always be his friend.” Brady returned the favor late last year when allegations emerged about Manning’s purported ties to human growth hormone, telling WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan he “fully supports Peyton.”

Manning retires with a career 96.5 passer rating, which is just one tenth of a point better than Brady’s. For all of the flack Manning receives about his propensity to choke in the playoffs, his postseason QB rating is just six tenths of a point behind Brady’s as well (87.4 vs. 88). It’s also worth noting that Manning beat Brady in their final three AFC Championship matchups.

With Manning hanging it up just one week after Brady signed a two-year extension to remain with the Patriots though 2019, the contrast between the two all-time greats has never been greater. Despite winning the Super Bowl, Manning just finished the worst season of his career. Brady, meanwhile, led the league in touchdown passes in 2015.

But as Manning showed, every player eventually faces his professional mortality—and it’s often unexpected. Manning put up dazzling numbers through the opening three months of the 2014 campaign, posting a 107.8 passer rating through the first 12 games. But then his performance torpedoed in December, leaving him with a 76.8 rating, and he never bounced back. As good as Brady looks now, Manning’s retirement is an inconvenient reminder that the glory days could end at any time. That may be one of the reasons Brady is lamenting the fact he’ll never face off against Manning again.

“That part sucks,” Brady said to King. “That part really sucks. That part will always suck.”

With Manning’s retirement, the biggest chapter of Brady’s career is now closed. He’ll continue to play on, but instead of trying to fend off Manning, he’ll attempt to stave off the football grim reaper.