The scripture-quoting rookie versus the F-bomb dropping Super Bowl vet. Baby cheeks versus chin dimple. Scrambler versus sniper.
The story lines for Saturday's matchup between Hall of Fame-bound New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Heisman Trophy-winning and Denver Bronco rookie Tim Tebow abound, especially given Tebow's overtime winner against the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend and the sky-high stakes for Brady, who has lost his last three playoff games.
On paper, the Patriots are favored by a 13 point margin – a prediction only fueled by the Patriots' 41-23 drubbing of the Broncos in November, which stopped Tebow's at-times miraculous seven-game winning streak cold in its tracks. And the Patriots have an .800 regular season win percentage while the Broncos are at .500. The same statistical matchup has led to four playoff victories in a row for the NFL playoff contender with the superior record.
Of course the game will be decided as much by the other players on the field as by Brady and Tebow. But it's impossible not to view the Patriots-Broncos matchup on Saturday as being about two all-American men caught up in an "Odd Couple" matchup of epic proportions.
For all their obvious differences, if anything binds the two gridiron leaders it's that ever-elusive “it” factor that goes beyond athleticism or personal beliefs, to something more essential embodied by both: an intensity and love for the game that inspires teammates to overcome pain and fulfill what they believe, at least at the time, is their destinies.
The epic confrontation should improve on the stunning TV ratings for last week's Broncos-Steelers game, won on the first overtime play after Tebow connected to Demaryius Thomas for an electrifying 80-yard touchdown.
People will watch, writes Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander, “to see if a running, bare-armed, cheerful, fundamentals-be-damned, totally retro, winning quarterback can beat ... classically formed quarterback Brady in a game that is – remember – as vicious as it is pretty.”
Zeroing in on their individual merits and broader philosophical beliefs, the two QBs could hardly be more different.
Brady represents the ushering in of the quarterback age, where what matters most is pure passing skill, cool-headed leadership, and the intellectual ability to master intricate playbook calculus – a mold that's being filled by other superstars like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
Tebow, with his erratic play-action scrambles and unorthodox throwing style, falls so far outside that mold that he can only be measured against himself. It is a style that has brought him adulation. An ESPN poll recently pegged him as America's most admired athlete.
Brady was picked in the 6th round, Tebow in the 1st. Brady is a pocket passer who throws with the accuracy of a SEAL sniper. Tebow is a running back who hits less than half his passes. In eight of 12 starts, Tebow attempted as many passes as Brady completed.
Brady's nearly 40,000 yards and 300 touchdowns in 12 seasons are nearly unrivaled. Tebow, in his first season, managed a 46.5 completion percentage, 12 touchdowns, six interceptions, seven fumbles, and 2,383 yards.
“I think both of those guys are winners but two totally different guys – totally different guys,” Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch said this week.
But for the difference in playing and personal style, and lifetime stats, there are some compelling analogies between the two players. For one thing, they both exceeded expectations as rookies, earning their wings as underdog clutch players.
In Brady's first campaign with the Patriots the team hovered near .500 in the regular season – just like the Broncos this year. That year the come-out-of-nowhere Brady beat the Oakland Raiders in his first-ever playoff game by 16-13 in overtime. He was helped by the now-famed “tuck rule” that gave the Raiders a penalty that allowed the Patriots to hold onto a key possession to set up a field goal.
In that game, Brady threw for 312 yards and one interception, without a touchdown.
In last week's win over the Steelers – Tebow's first playoff game – the young QB threw for 316 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, all after losing his last three regular season games. One of his TDs is now simply known as “The Pass,” the 80-yard Demaryius Thomas TD, which will go down in the game's annals.
At the end of the day, the two men have different things to prove. Brady wants another championship ring, eager to toss off the failure of his past few playoff appearances. Tebow wants to silence the naysayers who believe he's not a franchise quarterback, and to possibly replicate Brady's feat of capping his rookie season with a Super Bowl ring.
All of the hype and analysis will finally coalesce into the ultimate comparison of the two quarterbacks on game day in Foxborough, Mass. They have both already proved that anything is possible, if you believe.