There's plenty to say about their differences - Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson are far from carbon copies. Manning's closer to 40 than 30; Wilson's smack dab in the middle of his 20s. Despite being 6'5", Manning would be ill-suited to a career in the NBA; despite being the shortest starting quarterback in the NFL, Wilson's 5'11" frame moves like an NBA point guard. Manning was drafted first overall; Wilson was the 11th pick - of the third round. Yes, the media doesn't struggle to differentiate between the two, framing this Sunday's Super Bowl as the chess match between the traditional pocket passer and the new-age scrambler.
A less popular topic? How these differences have led to so many shared traits. Especially in years one and two of their careers, Manning and Wilson had a lot in common. Both were gym rats who then "relaxed" by watching film. Film, film, film - they wanted to see it all, to recognize everything. Both had strong running games to help them adjust, Manning relying on first Marshall Faulk and then Edgerrin James, Wilson handing the ball off to "Beast Mode" Marshawn Lynch. Focal points in their respective franchises, both interpreted success as motivation to work harder, to get better, to perfect. As a result, both lead best by example, teammates striving to match their attention to detail and work ethic. That said, if you were doing something wrong neither one was afraid to tell you, even standing up to address the whole team if necessary.
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Now let's say, for fun, these two switched teams and switched generations. Wilson goes to Indianapolis in 1998, and Manning to Seattle in 2012. Could Wilson improve upon Manning's 16 wins in his first two seasons? I think so. Manning went from the cellar - at 3-13 - to the roof, finishing 13-3. While I doubt Wilson replicates Manning's highest of highs in Indy, I bet he avoids 13 defeats in his first season thanks to his ability to scramble and buy time, leading Indy to a more even-keeled 18 wins in two seasons. Manning in Seattle? It's hard to think he improves much upon Wilson's 24 wins in two seasons. In fact, I don't think he does, since history shows that he's so reluctant to let the team run, run, run, when his tendency is to pass, pass, pass, and his receivers in Seattle just aren't very good. No, I say Manning ends up right around 24 wins, too. Does he end up Super Bowl Champion at the end of his second season? I think so. Will Wilson on Sunday? I hope not. But it's very easy to think yes, he will.
To be sure, there's still plenty separating Manning from Wilson, plenty Wilson will have to do to catch Manning. Play another 13 seasons, for starters. Wilson could use Sunday as a big first step in the right direction. Then again, we'll see what Manning has to say about that.