JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The NFL’s glamour game has a glamour matchup at quarterback — even if neither one wants to really see it that way.
New England’s Tom Brady already has two Super Bowl MVPs. The only thing Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb hasn’t won is a title.
Super Bowl XXXIX, which will be decided this afternoon, won’t be about a quarterback who simply manages the game. That had been a primary Super storyline the past few years.
It’ll be won — one way or the other — by one of the premier quarterbacks in the league.
Still, they’ve become premier quarterbacks in part because they make sure they don’t act that way.
"(You) make sure you explain to the rest of the guys that we are in this thing together," McNabb said. "That if I receive individual attention, it’s because of the success we (all) are having.
"You are talking about a guy (in Brady) who has won two MVP trophies and two Super Bowls. He could easily run off and say how great he is, but he doesn’t."
There are similarities between the two.
But the impact of winning today’s game would affect each differently.
Brady has already set his place in history. Winning a championship twice tends to do that. But just as coach Bill Belichick is looking to cement his greatness with another Super Bowl win and just as the Patriots as a team are trying to reach dynasty status, Brady needs another title to have a chance to reach mythic proportions.
And that might not be enough.
Sure, one of the topics this week has been the comparisons between Brady and Joe Montana, Brady’s boyhood idol growing up in northern California. But there are still those torn on the subject.
"Honestly, let me ask you this," Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, now an analyst for Fox, asked some reporters this week. "If we were starting a team this year in, say, San Antonio, and we could pick any quarterback in the NFL, why not Brady?"
The hesitation was enough for Bradshaw.
"That’s my point. He will always be overlooked."
But part of that is the Brady persona. His statistics are often ordinary. He downplays his fame and success. He isn’t particularly thrilled about being in the spotlight, even though he handles the media crush at Super Bowl week as well as anyone could.
"Tom Brady is the one quarterback in the league to, if he wanted to, to be much bigger than the team," former Cowboys quarterback and Fox analyst Troy Aikman said.
Instead, Brady wants to concentrate on football and winning and being prepared. His success in big games comes from that preparation — "You feel like you have the answers to the test," he said this week — and is the reason he’s on the doorstep of another Super Bowl win.
That’s where the McNabb’s story begins and ends today.
"Tom Brady," McNabb said, "has what I want."
One McNabb angle this week is his opportunity to become only the second black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, after Washington’s Doug Williams in 1988.
But it goes deeper than that for McNabb, who lost three straight NFC championship games before this season. He may be a marquee name, but there is something missing without a Super Bowl ring.
"To be a great quarterback, you have to win a championship," former Eagles quarterback and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski said.
McNabb might be headed there. He had a spectacular 104.7 passing rating this season and rolled through the playoffs even without star receiver Terrell Owens. The inconsistency that marked his earlier career has disappeared.
"This season, his football intelligence matched his football talent," Jaworski said. "I’ve seen him become the complete quarterback."
Added Aikman, "I can’t imagine being an owner in this league and going to bed at night and feeling any more comfortable than (Eagles owner) Jeff Lurie having Donovan McNabb, not only as his quarterback but also as a spokesman for his organization."
The last few Super Bowl quarterback matchups have been less than scintillating. Brady was matched with Carolina’s Jake Delhomme last season. Before that, it was Oakland’s Rich Gannon and Tampa Bay’s Brad Johnson. Brady was a noname the year he played St. Louis’ Kurt Warner.
You have to go back to Super Bowl XXXII with Denver’s John Elway and Green Bay’s Brett Favre to get true, two-way stardom between the guys playing the most important position.
"I love it because I think it represents everything good about our game," Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown said.
"It’s not about the numbers you put up, because Peyton Manning is at home right now. It’s not about how fast you are because Michael Vick is at home. It’s about how you carry your team and win games. Donovan and Tom have done that, and it will be awesome to watch."