Gary Myers has covered the NFL since 1978. He has seen Joe Montana's 49ers, Mike Ditka's Bears and the 90s Cowboys along the way. The most intriguing rivalry during Myers' 38 years of work did not revolve around two teams, but two players. Myers' new book, Brady Vs. Manning, analyzes the duel between two of the greatest quarterbacks ever. ThePostGame chatted with Myers, a longtime NFL columnist for the New York Daily News, about the Brady and Manning, the state of the NFL and journalism. (Note: Interview was conducted before the Broncos' 30-24 overtime win against the Patriots last Sunday.)
ThePostGame: Why write this book in 2015 as opposed to earlier or later?
GARY MYERS: I was looking for a subject that would define this era of the NFL. When I wrote The Catch about Dwight Clark's catch, that was the line the Cowboys started going backward. I did a book a couple years ago called Coaching Confidential, a behind-the-scenes look at NFL coaches and the pressures of the job. I really wanted to find something contemporary and these two guys when you look at it, they really do define this era, which has been so profitable and so popular. Their rivalry is unlike any other in NFL history. You have two guys who, no matter how you rank them, will be in the top five quarterbacks in NFL history. I have Brady first and Peyton fourth.
And they played each other so much, which makes this so special. They played each other 16 times already, including four times in the playoffs. When you compare to Marino and Elway, they were in the league together from '83-'98, but in the 16 years they were in the league together, they faced each other only three times. Two of the three times were in the final year of Elway's career. These guys, Peyton and Tom face each other basically every year. Why didn't I do it years ago? I didn't think of it. I just figure they're probably not going to retire in the same time and even before this injury to Peyton, you figured he would retire first and then there'd be a whole slew of Peyton books. Then Brady will retire and there will be Brady books. This is a neat way to put them together.
TPG: What angle did you start with and how do you think that changed once you started interviewing people?
MYERS: The angle I started with was what this rivalry has meant to each of them, what it's meant to the guys who have played with them and against them and what it's meant to the NFL. Where it kind of veered off, as I started to do the interviews -- and the person that really clued me into this was Archie -- is that Peyton and Tom are actually much better friends than anyone has any idea about. Tom was the first of the two of them [to interview] and he was just telling me some great stories about their friendship. It was clear to me it went beyond just saying hello to each other on the field. They text each other all the time. In the offseason, they play golf. They've had dinner together with their wives. When Tom got hurt in the first quarter of the first game in the '08 season, Peyton was the first to call him. When Peyton missed the 2011 season, Brady returned the favor.
I tried to provide some stuff about their path that really hadn't been explored in depth such as Brady's time at Michigan and why he struggled so much to get on the field. I went to Ann Arbor and met with Lloyd Carr. I didn't get into too much about Peyton's time at Tennessee because he started four or five games into his freshman year and started thereafter. I got into the whole draft process with him about how he nearly came out after his junior year and then got taken by the Colts, which today, seems like a no-brainer because it was him or Ryan Leaf, but at the time, it wasn't as easy as a decision as it would now appear.
TPG: If [Tennessee teammate] Todd Helton becomes quarterback, maybe Peyton Manning plays 17 years for the Rockies.
MYERS: (Laughs) That's right. And they're still really good friends. I know when Peyton was having the neck problems, he went out to Denver and was throwing a football around with Helton.
TPG: Why don't more people know about Brady and Manning's friendship? Do they not play it up?
MYERS: They're both very private people off the field, despite the fact that Peyton is in almost every television commercial. He really guards his private life. You don't really see much of his wife. Tom, you obviously see more of his public life because of Gisele. As far as interacting with each other, it's not something they felt compelled to talk about. When Archie tipped me off, it did not really take long to figure out I have an angle that has not been explored completely and is something that I can shed light on as long as the guys are willing to talk about it, and they were. In talking to their family members and their dads and a lot of their close friends, these guys have bonded a lot because they kind of look at each other as the only ones who can relate to their success and popularity. Peyton has Eli to talk X's and O's with. He never does that Tom. If Peyton is playing the Cowboys and two weeks earlier, Eli played the Cowboys, they'll be on the phone a lot and they'll pick each other's brain. Peyton and Tom don't, because, although they both say they root for the other to do well individually, they don't want each other's team to win. Almost annually, they're fighting each other for playoff positioning in the AFC, so there's nothing to gain by the team doing well.
Without being able to speak to Tom, not being able to play Peyton (on Nov. 29), I guarantee he's disappointed. These guys get revved up to play each other. They're very aware of the guy on the other sidelines. Being that this has been a game that has been talked about for months, they were both undefeated for a large part of the season, there was a chance they would have both been 10-0 going into this, now Denver's lost a couple games and Peyton's not playing. I know Tom wishes Peyton was completely healthy. I think they both do realize the place in history this rivalry has.
TPG: It seems like these guys are happy to talk about their rivalry and they don't ignore how important it is to them. Why is that?
MYERS: If you ask them publicly about it, in press conferences, they'll really take the question in a different direction. Before I spoke to them privately for the book, I was there on conference calls and press conferences, and they'd take care of the answer in two or three sentences and move on. Tom was more willing to really get into stuff with me than Peyton, and I could only think one of the reasons was that Tom leads 11 to 5, but the last two times they met in the playoffs were the 2006 AFC championship game when Peyton was in Indy and the 2013 AFC championship when Peyton was in Denver, and in both cases Peyton won. So in the last two really important games they played, Peyton won. If Peyton was playing this week, I guarantee the questions would have been Is this the last time? And I think they both would have talked about it, knowing it may very well be the last time.
TPG: Do you think this would have been the last time?
MYERS: There's a good chance this would have been the last time. Obviously, they can meet in the playoffs. They'll both be in the playoffs. But as far as how healthy Peyton will be, Gary Kubiak has already said as soon as Peyton comes back, he's the starting quarterback again. If Brock Osweiler continues to play well, we only saw a small sample size last week, but if they beat New England and then beat San Diego and that's three in a row, he's going to be faced with a really difficult decision. As far as going further, depending on how Peyton finishes the season will determine if he's back in Denver or if he plays next year. Brady said he's going to play until he sucks, and there's no sign of that happening soon.
TPG: What are the most common misconceptions of these guys from the public?
MYERS: As far as Brady is concerned, people consider him as an extension of Bill Belichick's evil empire in New England, and he was an accomplice in Spygate and Deflategate. That's a perception of him. If you're not part of Patriots Nation, chances are you hate the Patriots and that's because they've always been so successful. I found Tom to be extremely accommodating, very forthcoming and really fun to be around. Peyton has this reputation of being this outgoing, gregarious guy. You see him in all these commercials and stuff. I think he's a lot more private than people would think. All they have to judge him by is Saturday Night Live and he was on the last Late Show with David Letterman, but I think he's a lot more private.
TPG: How much do the coaches and settings that these guys are put in affect the path of their careers?
MYERS: Peyton would have been great no matter where he played. He's had several coaches in his career. He had three in Indianapolis and now two in Denver. He was just going to be great no matter what because his skill set was so off the charts, and his knowledge of the game and his leadership too. Brady, on the other hand, a sixth-round pick, overlooked in the draft, he ended up in the almost perfect situation. Would he have been in the same situation had he ended up in Jacksonville or San Diego or Seattle? It almost didn't matter. You can pick any team and wonder what would have become of Brady had he not ended up in New England because Belichick is just a superior coach and he saw something in Tom he believed in. I don't think he would have had the opportunity to duplicate what he did in New England anywhere else because I'm not sure he would have gotten the chance. In New England, when Bledsoe got hurt, that opened the door for him to start.
But coming out of training camp, in 2001, Tom's second year, I know that Belichick really really wanted Brady to start over Bledsoe but felt that with Bernie Kosar and his experience in Cleveland, running off a hometown hero, he didn't want to go through the backlash he did there. Then Bledsoe got hurt. He started Brady and the only one really complaining was Bledsoe. He made the team as a rookie as a fourth-string quarterback and the Patriots were able to keep him that they had such bad salary cap problems that he was cheap as a sixth-round pick. They didn't want to subject him to waivers to try to get him on the practice squad and he was costing them very little. Belichick saw something he liked and just kept him on the roster.
TPG: Did Peyton have better wide receivers than Brady or is that another misconception?
MYERS: The skill position players have been far better around Peyton than what Brady's had. Brady's had interchangeable parts. The only elite wide receiver he's ever had was Randy Moss and that was for a very short period of time. He's made Julian Edelman into a star. Unfortunately for Tom, Julian and the Patriots, he's hurting now. When you think about Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark and Edgerrin James and all the great skill position players that were with Peyton in Indy, and now you've got in Denver, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. He had Julius Thomas for his first couple years. The quality of the skill position players were much better than what Brady had. Now, Gronk is uncoverable as a tight end, but when you look at the roster right now, it's all about Brady, maybe more now than ever. Belichick's relied on him so much by thinking Brady makes everyone better. He's putting a lot of pressure on him.
TPG: You covered the Giants in the early 90s. What do you remember about Belichick as a coach then that is the same or different now?
MYERS: He was very organized, very creative with his gameplans, smarter than anyone else. The Giants defensive players swore by him. They really loved him. I don't think that's stuff's changed. I still think he's smarter than anyone else's gameplans. They are a team that changes their gameplan every week to exploit their opponent's weaknesses.
TPG: You had to put Peyton Manning in a Broncos jersey on the cover, but is there something kind of off about that when describing this rivalry?
MYERS: That's a really good question. It was my idea that they pick a picture of Peyton in a Broncos jersey and there's a simple reason for that. If you put him in a Colts jersey, they haven't played with Peyton as a member of the Colts since 2010 and with people looking at the book on Amazon or in bookstores, my concern was if we put him in a Colts jersey, even though that's where most of the games took place, people might think it was old. There's no denying the rivalry was born when he was in Indy. It was more of a marketing idea on my part.
TPG: When he went to Denver, did you think he would have the success he's had as a Bronco?
MYERS: I thought it all depended on his health. When he signed with the Broncos, we had no idea how he would be because he was coming off his fourth neck surgery. If he was healthy, then there was no doubt in my mind he was going to be great. As long as he had strength in his arms and his legs, why wouldn't he be great?
TPG: What direct impact have these two guys have on the NFL?
MYERS: They've given the league a focal point. For all the negative attention put on the league, and rightfully so, for the stuff that's been going on off the field, these two guys have really represented everything that's been right about the league until the Deflategate thing, which I thought was a bunch of nonsense. There hadn't really been any negative about either one. And with them playing every year, even non-Colts-Patriots-Broncos fans looked at the schedule to see when these guys played each other. Quarterbacks aren't on the field at the same time, but I don't think anyone would say these guys didn't have a rivalry.
TPG: How has Eli been present in the rivalry?
MYERS: I've been kidding around that Eli has done Peyton's dirty work beating Brady twice in a Super Bowl. Certainly, he's been an integral part of it. Mannings have beaten Brady four times in the playoffs. I don't think anyone would put Eli in Brady or his brother's class. He's not as good of a player. Having those two Super Bowl victories over Brady, where he led two last-second drives to win the game, has certainly made Eli an important part of this. A lot of people have asked me, when are you coming out with Brady vs. Eli? I do deal with that in the book, but overall, they haven't had the same rivalry as Brady vs. Peyton.
TPG: It's not directly part of the rivalry, but did you talk to Brady about the Tuck Rule?
MYERS: I didn't get into that with him. I probably should have because that was a big part of his career that led to his first Super Bowl. I did write about it, but I did not talk about it with him.
TPG: Why are the college situations so important for telling this story?
MYERS: What happened at Tennessee was just a continuation of what was expected. He was a great high school quarterback and very heavily recruited. He chose Tennessee over Mississippi. He wanted to be his own guy. When I talked to Archie, he said there were concerns of Mississippi going on probation back then, but it was a continuation of the storyline that Peyton was born into football loyalty. That certainly doesn't guarantee success. We saw with the sons of Joe Montana and Phil Simms, who had more success in the NFL than Archie, their sons didn't have the success in college and the NFL that Peyton did.
A really important part of who Brady is came from his experience at Michigan. He redshirted as a freshman, nearly transferred as a sophomore, sat for a couple years. It was his fourth out of his five years in the program that he started his first game. As a result, it hardened him and made him not take anything for granted. He still goes out at practice every day and tries to prove to Belichick that he's the best quarterback on the team, which is ridiculous at this point. That's the attitude that he's taking. That's all because of what happened at Michigan and how miserable he was for the first three years not playing. Even at the last two years at Michigan, even though he was 20-5, Drew Henson was looking over his shoulder the whole time. Lloyd Carr was playing Henson both those years and the fans at Michigan never really expected Brady as a star. He was a kid from California that sat on the bench for three years and when he started, the local kid from Brighton, Michigan, which is about 25 miles from Ann Arbor, who was a three-sport star, was there. All the Michigan fans wanted to see Henson, but Brady was playing. Brady loved going to school there and he's proud to be a Michigan guy, and he talks a lot now about how that whole experience shaped who he was, but it wasn't easy for him.
TPG: Is Brady as good as he's ever been right now?
MYERS: I think he is. How long he can keep that up, I don't know. He's playing as well as he played in 2007 when they were undefeated and he set that touchdown pass record that Peyton's since broken. I don't think the players around him are as good. Back in '07, he had Moss and [Wes] Welker. Even before Edelman got hurt and [Danny] Amendola's banged up, I don't think you can compare any of the receivers to Moss, who had a fantastic season. Gronk is far better than anybody he's had to throw to at tight end in his career. Tom is a real health nut, he's a nutrition nut, he's very dedicated to his workouts. He's just in great shape. He said he wants to play another ten years. He's 38 years old and and logic would tell you that's not going to happen, but I would say he's got another really good three or four years in him as long as he stays healthy.
TPG: You're around the NFL today. Do you like the state of the NFL right now?
MYERS: I don't like that it's become almost a competition of which officiating crew can throw the most flags. I find it very frustrating watching a game or in person or on TV and you don't know if a play is going to stand. You look around waiting for late flags to come up. I think it's taken a lot out of the game. You can't take a play for what it is. You see a 40-yard pass and you think what's it going to be: Defensive holding, illegal use of the hands, pass interference, is replaying going to overturn it? It's been exhausting watching these games. It's going longer. If you're a fan, and I'm not a fan of a team, you can't get excited because you've got to look around. It happened with Beckham against the Patriots. It looked like a touchdown, then they slow it down to the slowest possible second and overturn it. It takes some of the enjoyment out of watching these games. The emphasis has been so much on offense. It's just made it a complete passing league. Of course, the worst problem the league has is with players' behaviors off the field.
TPG: You've been covering the NFL since 1978. What is the best team you've witnessed in those years?
MYERS: That's a good question. I'll give you 1 and 1A. The 49ers in 1984, and this is before they had Jerry Rice, were probably the best team I've ever seen, as a complete team. Offensively, with Joe [Montana] and Roger Craig and Dwight Clark, etc., they were virtually unstoppable and it was the best defense Joe has ever played with. They also lost one game all season. The '85 Bears, just on one side of the ball, were right up there because theire attitude was, defensively -- their offense was nothing much -- when they gave up yards, they took it as an insult. They were as intimidating a group on either side of the ball as I've ever seen.
The team I think that could have been the best ever had they stayed together were the Cowboys of the early 90s because all their best players were young. [Troy] Aikman, [Emmitt] Smith, [Michael] Irvin, they had a great coach in Jimmy Johnson. But as often happens when a team is successful, there's not enough credit to go around and that led to the divorce of Jimmy and Jerry [Jones] and the eventual demise of the team. They haven't made the Super Bowl since 1995.
The Steelers of the 70s, I was covering for the Associated Press back then and I wasn't really traveling around. Certainly they were great.
TPG: Michael Wilbon says too many writers these days write from their "mother's basement." How do you feel about the state of sports journalism right now?
MYERS: I have not seen Michael say that, but I agree with him. First of all, I think the way journalism has changed is people care more about being first than being right. I won't say that's everybody. Certainly there are a lot of guys in this business I have a lot of respect for who think the same way I do: It's better to be right than first. Too many times when you're first, you're wrong. Twitter has created a race to the finish line. Who can get a story out there first? If you're wrong, people forget about it. If you're right, you become a hero. It's really out of control. As far as bloggers, I feel like if you're not out there at the games and the practices talking to players and coaches and general managers and agents, anybody can have their own opinion. Anyone can create their own blog. It's a question of if anyone will read it or not. It's not the way it used to be. When I was in Dallas, everyone was accountable for their actions. Now, you don't even know when a story is coming from. It's the Wild Wild West of journalism.
TPG: I hope you didn't think I'd let you go without a Deflategate question. How does that affect Brady's legacy and frankly, does he care?
MYERS: I think he cares a lot. He cares a lot about his accomplishments not being tainted. As he said in the courtroom when the judge was quizzing the NFL attorney -- I was there -- and the judge said, 'You have no direct evidence linking Tom Brady to the deflation of footballs,' and the attorney said, 'No, we don't your honor.' A lot of it is just circumstantial, connect-the-dots evidence that the NFL put together. I know the NFL still believes Brady is the mastermind of this. I still find it very hard to believe that he would feel it necessary to do that. I can't give you a definitive answer as to what happened. Was it the ideal gas law as Professor Belichick was giving a lesson about or did these guys do it on the level they knew Tom thought was acceptable? I find a hard time believing that Tom would have gone to them and said I want you to make it at 12 or 11.5. I just think I know him well enough at this point, I've talked to his father about this. Tom has swore to his father that he didn't have any involvement in this. I'm still a big believer in that you don't lie to your father. It's still a mystery. I'd still sit here today and say I don't think Tom was directly involved in this and the league has no evidence that he was.
Brady Vs. Manning: The Untold Story of the Rivalry that Transformed the NFL by Gary Myers is available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Gary Myers on Twitter @garymyersNYDN.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.