Super Bowl QBs Manning, Wilson feature contrasting styles
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — If Peyton Manning is Omaha — as old-school and old-style as it gets, right down to his line-of-scrimmage shouting — then Russell Wilson is Seattle through and through — as sleek and fast as a Boeing jet yet as meticulous and detailed as a Microsoft programmer.
One seems more suited for the 1960s, and the other easily can be envisioned as a forerunner of what NFL quarterbacks will look like in the 2020s. They are an unmistakable dichotomy between football of yesterday and football of tomorrow, and it's fitting that their nearly 13-year age difference is the greatest of any Super Bowl quarterback matchup.
It's the No. 1-ranked offense of the Denver Broncos against the No. 1-ranked defense of the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Sunday night, one that, it appears, will lack the long-anticipated awful weather. The temperature won't drop out of the high 30s, and if there is precipitation, it will be Seattle-like rain, not Denver-like snow.
“Clearly the best of the best and the makings of a classic,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said.
It also has the makings of quarterback duel like none of the previous 47 Super Bowls: two great arms, one great set of legs, one perfectionist football mind.
So what's to make of all this: Peyton Manning, almost 38 and desperate to win perhaps his last Super Bowl, against Russell Wilson, barely 25 and seemingly only warming up for the first of multiple Super Bowls?
“It's the young gun vs. NFL royalty, and it's pretty good. It's exciting,” said Super Bowl-winning quarterback Troy Aikman, now a Fox analyst. “On the one hand, you've got a seasoned veteran who has been here, been on the biggest stage before and has been on stage since before he left high school. But if you're (overlooking) Russell, you're really missing something. He's mature beyond his years. … I just don't feel like the stage is going to be too big for him. I expect him to be able to come in and play well.”
But the best question is, can Wilson play well enough to deny Manning, who recovered from a season's layoff, four neck surgeries, questions from brother Eli about his football future and a disappointing playoff loss to Baltimore last season to throw more touchdown passes (55) than anyone in history?
Manning leads the first 600-point offense in NFL history, a nearly 40-points-per-game unit that's deep in receivers (Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas), has a sound running back (Knowshon Moreno) and a quarterback who can cement his legacy as perhaps the greatest of the great. He also could become the first quarterback to win the Super Bowl with two franchises.
But Manning must take on a Seahawks defense that is multilayered, fast, 2008 Steelers-like physical and rule-bending — their cornerbacks have perfected the art of holding a bit longer than permitted. But Manning is at the top of his game and hasn't been touched by an opposing defender in the playoffs. Getting him out of rhythm and putting him on the MetLife Stadium turf might be necessary for a Seattle defense that has given up fewer than half as many points as the Broncos have scored.
“Nobody has really slowed them down. We take that as a big challenge,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
But who most needs to keep up is Wilson, the second-year player who is a member of the Colin Kaepernick school of hybrid quarterbacks. He has a strong arm and sharp mind honed at Wisconsin during 2 a.m. film-study sessions with-then offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, now the Pitt coach. Yet he also has rushed for 539 yards, only 84 fewer than Steelers 2012 leader Jonathan Dwyer.
“It's a different player than what we've seen,” Aikman said. “The difference in recent years has been these guys can beat you not only running the football, but they can throw the ball extremely well from the pocket, as well. It's an extremely dangerous combination. This game being the Super Bowl, historically, there's never been a guy who couldn't throw from the pocket that has won this game, and this year won't be any different. … But Russell Wilson is a passer before he's a runner.”
Former Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Ditka said there have been quarterbacks like Wilson, but few were permitted to run out of fear of injury. To Ditka, Manning isn't the only throwback quarterback in this Super Bowl.
“I played with a guy in 1961 that I think is as good a quarterback who's ever played the game, and that's Fran Tarkenton,” Ditka said. “That's what I see in Russell Wilson and all these other guys: the athleticism. … When you have a dual-threat guy at that position who can throw and run, it's tough.”
This Super Bowl is a throwback because it's the first to be played outdoors on artificial turf since the Steelers-Cowboys game in January 1976 in Miami.
“Two completely different types of offensive systems. Two different styles. One's a pocket passer, and our guy can be a pocket passer, but he can also make plays with his legs,” Seattle defensive captain Heath Farwell said. “It's kind of new-age stuff.”
It could be one for the ages.