[caption id="attachment_973" align="aligncenter" width="474"] Illustration: Steve Hill[/caption]
For better or worse, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota will be linked throughout their NFL careers. It’s an amazing quirk of the schedule that the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks from the most recent draft will make their professional debuts together Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
Are we witnessing the birth of the next great NFL quarterback rivalry?
Hard to predict.
After all, the anticipated long-time rivalry between Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb (No. 1 and 2, Class of 1999) never quite materialized, did it? And the potential RGIII-Andrew Luck rivalry hasn’t exactly emerged, even though their careers began with such promise in 2012 and both are still young.
What makes a great NFL QB rivalry?
It requires individual greatness and superior achievement, certainly. It also requires something more.
In order for a rivalry to develop, they must face each other frequently over the years, and the stakes must be high. People have to care. There has to be a buzz all week long.
We all know it’s not really QB vs. QB in an NFL game. Intellectually, we know that the true competition is between the defensive coordinators and the great QBs.
But history says something else. History says quarterbacks are measured not only by their team and individual achievements. They are measured by their success against one another.
Fair or not, that’s how Winston and Mariota will ultimately be measured, too. And it all starts this weekend.
Here is a quick look at some of the top QB rivalries in NFL history. Perhaps Winston-Mariota will join them one day:
Tom Brady (Patriots)-Peyton Manning (Colts, Broncos)
New England fans can argue that the 16 regular-season meetings between two of the game’s four or five all-time greatest passers have not constituted a rivalry. That’s because Brady’s teams have defeated Manning’s teams 11 of those 16 times.
However, they are 2-2 in four postseason matchups, and Manning’s teams actually are 2-1 against Brady’s teams in AFC Championship Games. Still, Brady’s four championship rings trump Manning’s one pretty easily.
The rivalry was stirred a bit this offseason when a less-than-complimentary email written by Brady about Manning surfaced during the Deflategate investigation. Brady apologized and Manning took the high road.
They meet again Nov. 29 in Denver.
Joe Namath (Jets)-Johnny Unitas (Colts)
Their teams met in Super Bowl III (Unitas was sort of a bit player because of injury), then met again in 1972 when the Jets beat the Colts, 44-34. Namath passed for 496 yards and six TDs that day, which marked the official changing of the guard from the short-cropped Unitas Era to the shaggy-haired Namath Era in the NFL.
Roger Staubach (Cowboys)-Terry Bradshaw (Steelers)
A lot of NFL fans who grew up in the 1970s wanted to be Staubach, and just as many wanted to be Bradshaw. They both embodied bravado and charisma as much as any athletes of their generation.
They met twice in the Super Bowl. Bradshaw won them both, but Staubach got two rings of his own against other teams.
Dan Marino (Dolphins)-Joe Montana (49ers)
They met in Super Bowl XIX, but not often after that. Still, their rivalry was more about historic production and statistics (Marino had the clear edge) versus simply winning (Montana might have been the best of all time at that).
Troy Aikman (Cowboys)-Steve Young (49ers)
They met three consecutive seasons (1992-94) in the NFC Championship Game. Aikman won the first two and Young won the third. Brett Favre was in the mix here, too, but Aikman-Young was the premier QB rivalry in the league for nearly half a decade.
Andrew Luck (Colts)-Russell Wilson (Seahawks)
This is one for the future. Both have out-shone fellow 2012 draftee RGIII, and Wilson has clearly staked his claim as the best young QB of this era. Luck, however, is poised to make a move this year and it would surprise no one if they led their teams to the Super Bowl.
Sure, we know. We’ve left off a bunch. Otto Graham-Bobby Layne, John Elway-Jim Kelly, Marino-Kelly, Bradshaw-Ken Stabler, Dan Fouts-Jim Plunkett, and so many others.
Where will Winston-Mariota end up on the list? It starts Sunday.