Super Bowl XLVI preview

Super Bowls define careers: They separate good players from great players. As we look toward Super Bowl XLVI, we look at crossroads in the careers of two very different quarterbacks. Tom Brady, the New England Patriots’ veteran quarterback, will face Eli Manning, the New York Giants’ quarterback and little brother of Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Peyton Manning.

Brady is the golden boy who was picked 199th in the NFL draft and wasn’t even a full-time starter in college, while Manning is a high-pedigree, four-year college starter who has struggled to step out of his famous family’s shadow.

Walking off the field in Super Bowl XLII, Manning was the top player and had just completed one of the greatest upsets of all time. Brady, meanwhile, was handed a crushing defeat that still stings him today. On that night, both of their career paths changed completely. Brady lost his aura of invincibility and Manning gained the respect and recognition he had been fighting for throughout his career.

Now, four years later, we are looking at another career-changing moment for these two quarterbacks. On Sunday night, their legacies will be even more tied together, forever linked.

This game will change not only how people will view each of them, but also how people view at Super Bowl XLII. This is a rare opportunity to rewrite history. This Sunday, Brady and Manning are not just playing for themselves but for their legacies, along with the legacies of those connected to them — past and present.

A win on Sunday would allow Manning to take another huge step out of his brother’s shadow. He would solidify his preseason claim of being an elite quarterback in the league and silence most of his critics.

Winning another Super Bowl would turn Manning into one of the best clutch quarterbacks of all time, forcing people to focus on his record-setting 15 fourth-quarter touchdowns and his 110 fourth-quarter passing rating. Another Super Bowl win and people would no longer be debating whether he deserves the Pro Bowl, but rather if he is worthy of the Hall of Fame.

However, a loss would add doubt. Losing would increase suspicions that 2007 was a fluke. Falling to the Patriots would devalue all the work he has done to become his own person and not just Peyton’s little brother. Defeat would leave Manning in the category of good NFL quarterbacks, not great ones.

Winning for Brady would mean being considered one of the best quarterbacks of all time. With a win, Brady would prove that defense doesn’t win championships — record-breaking quarterback play and great tight ends do. Victory would show that Brady doesn’t need superb coaches or receivers to achieve greatness. With a victory in Indianapolis, the ghosts of 2007 would fade away.

On the other hand, a loss would show decline. A defeat would leave Brady’s record barely over .500 in the playoffs since 2006, after starting his career 10-0.

Losing would make people question if Brady is a good enough quarterback to win big games on his own, without a great defensive or offensive talent to back him up. A loss would have critics questioning if Brady was coasting on his former glory.

This Sunday, the legacies of two men will be changed forever. Between the funny commercials and the lavish halftime performance, these quarterbacks will fight for how history and critics will view them.

In the end, it may be out of their hands as they watch hopelessly from the sidelines. But after it’s all over, when one is raising the Vince Lombardi trophy and the other is sulking in the locker room, both of their paths will be changed.

The winner will have silenced the critics and proved his worth; the loser will have a new chorus of doubters questioning if he’s worth the praise.