Eli Manning and Tom Brady will face each other for the fourth time in their professional careers this weekend in Indianapolis. Both have taken very different routes in their careers but both are truly among the elite quarterbacks. But the two have had something of a role reversal over the course of their careers.
Manning and the Giants have beaten Brady and company twice in three tries, including the mother of them all a 17-14 upset victory in Super Bowl XLII. That game, in which Manning was named MVP, will go down as one of the greatest in the history of the Super Bowl thanks to David Tyree circus catch and the fact that they Patriots were 18-0 coming into the game.
Brady's only career win over the Giants was in week 17 of the 2007-08 season when the Patriots squeaked a 38-35 victory over the Giants to complete their undefeated regular season.
Manning was a prodigy almost from the moment he walked onto the scene at Ole Miss. He was the younger brother of Peyton, and son of Archie, that kind of pedigree made him one of the anointed ones even before he was an NFL player.
Manning was drafted first overall by the San Diego Chargers but was almost immediately traded to the Giants for a package that included fourth overall pick Phillip Rivers. He and his father had stated publicly before the draft that he would refuse to play for the Chargers because he did not feel that they could be successful.
That statement only heightened and sharpened the feeling among many fans that Manning was a bit of a silver spoon, kind of player who might not have the mental toughness to succeed. It also turned off many fans who felt that refusing to play was contrary to the ethos of football.
Brady on the other hand came from nothing, relatively speaking. When he got to campus at Michigan he was the seventh quarterback on the depth chart. It took him two years of battling before he finally won the starting job over Drew Henson.
Despite two very good years at Michigan, including a share of the 1998 Big 10 title and a pair of bowl wins Brady was an afterthought at the 2000 NFL draft. In a move often praised as a genius draft pick, but in reality probably closer to luck than genius, the Patriots picked Brady with the 199th selection after seriously considering Tim Rattay with the same pick.
Brady barely made the Patriots roster out of camp and was actually fourth on the depth chart to open his the season behind Drew Bledsoe, John Friesz and Michael Bishop.
Almost immediately, Manning seemed to prove his doubters right. He started seven games in his rookie season for the Giants, splitting time with Kurt Warner. The low point in the season for Manning was his fourth start against the Baltimore Ravens. Manning was so poor that he actually achieved a passer rating of 0.0 and was benched for the second half.
But Giants coach Tim Coughlin stuck by his rookie and kept him under center for the rest of the season. In 2005, in his second season, Manning found his groove. He led the Giants to an 11-5 record and a NFC East title.
Manning himself was top five in passing yards and touchdown passes in the 2005 season and with that performance he announced his arrival as one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
But in the following seasons Manning seemed to take a step back. He posted quarterback ratings of 77.0 and 73.9 in the following two seasons and appeared to be a clock manager not the dominant kind of quarterback a team hopes to get with the first overall pick.
But when the 2007 playoffs began, Manning became a different player. He threw for 854 yards and six touchdowns over the next four games leading his team to a Super Bowl victory and an MVP award against New England.
Brady took a much different and arguably more memorable route to his personal corner of the spotlight. After working his way up the Patriots depth chart as a rookie, he was thrust into the spotlight early in his second season.
A hit in week 2 of the 2001 season knocked Bledsoe out for most of the rest of the year. Brady was forced to take over the offense. After two unimpressive outings, Brady exploded in week 5 against San Diego.
Down 26-16 at the start of the fourth quarter he engineered two scoring drives to force overtime then drove the team down to hit the winning field goal. At that moment a star was born. Brady won 11 of the 14 regular season game he played in and capped off his performance with a Super Bowl title and Most Valuable Player award.
After Manning and the Giants took down the undefeated Patriots he became a hero. His past transgressions, as well as his past mediocrity as a quarterback were quickly forgotten. Manning himself improved his play exponentially with a ring on his finger.
His interception totals dropped and his yardage totals grew. In the last three seasons he has broken the 4,000 yard barrier, including almost 5,000 this season. But despite all of the success, and the fact that he plays in the largest media market in the United States, Manning has stayed relatively private.
Sure, he's been in his share of goofy commercials with his brother Peyton but when compared with his counterpart on Sunday, Manning is a recluse.
Prior to this season he told reporters that he felt he was one of the elite quarterback in the game much to the chagrin of some. But he backed it up and led the Giants to the Super Bowl after a season so tumultuous that they didn't even qualify for the playoffs until week 17.
Brady on the other hand spent the better part of the last decade dominating the NFL and rewriting record books. He won titles in 2003, and 2004 to go along with the 01 title. He ran off a 21 game winning streak, won two league MVPs, two Super Bowl MVPs and fathered children with two famously beautiful women.
He is in advertisements for Movado watches, Stetson cologne and UGGs footwear, not exactly brands that are synonymous with tough men playing a tough game. Brady has become a celebrity with appeal around the world.
But lately he has been the guy who can't get it done. He had lost three consecutive playoff games prior to this year, in fact he hadn't won a playoff game since losing to Manning in 2007.
Suddenly on the eve of their second meeting in a title game, the roles are reversed -- state of affairs that would have been unthinkable less than a decade ago. Manning is the feel good story; Brady is the guy fans love to hate.