Home / Comparison/Player Vs. Player / Johnny Unitas Vs. Peyton Manning:

We all know Peyton Manning as the savior of this era. The “golden boy” of our generation, if you will. The sure-fire Hall of Famer who will likely be mentioned as one of the best quarterbacks to ever lace them up. He’s the very heart-beat of the Indianapolis Colts‘ franchise. I can barely remember the Colts before Peyton Manning was at the helm. You can make an argument for Peyton as the best player of this entire century. He’s been consistently great, over and over again. Manning has resurrected a franchise that nobody outside of the state of Indiana (or Baltimore) really cared about.

We all know Peyton Manning as the uncontested field general of the NFL. There are plenty of great quarterbacks in the national football league, but Peyton seems to stand alone in terms of pure skill and leadership. Sure, Tom Brady has some flare and a cute little collection of NFL championships, but is there really any disputing that Peyton Manning is the best quarterback, week in and week out, over the past 10+ seasons?

I don’t think it’s even close. I believe that Peyton Manning is the, hands down, undeniable, best-of-the-best, when it comes to throwing a football, and leading an offense/team. Plenty of other NFL quarterbacks have given their all to their respective teams, and many of them are great NFL talents, but I just can’t see any of them being ahead of Peyton, in terms of the absolute best quarterback to currently play the game.

So who can rival Manning’s skill on the football field? Maybe a QB from another era? How about Johnny Unitas? Can another, former Colt legend out-battle Manning as the best? I’m here to find that out. I go into this Head-To-Head battle with no preconceived bias towards either player. I’m here to see these two great players do battle, and determine the winner at the end.

Johnny Unitas was the pulse of the Baltimore Colts for 17 seasons. He had a storied career that would impact three different decades (50’s/60’s/70’s) and touch the hearts of football fans nation-wide. Johnny U was one of those players who I really would have loved to see play. Sure, I have access to some old film, and I can dig through his many accomplishments and stats. But, without being alive during his hay-day, and never being impacted by what he could offer football fans, I’ll probably never truly understand his greatness. I can almost guarantee that I’ll never appreciate the true value of Unitas as much as I do Manning’s, because of the era in which I grew up. I’ve seen entire games of Peyton Manning being great, dozens of times (in HD). I’ve seen short clips of Unitas being great, in old black and white reel with bad commentary.

Best Statistical Seasons:

Johnny Unitas: 1959: 193 completions, 2,899 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, 14 interceptions (12 games).

Johnny Unitas stats enhanced through 16 games: 257 completions, 3,863 passing yards, 42 touchdowns, 18 interceptions.

Peyton Manning: 2004: 336 completions,  4,557 passing yards, 49 touchdowns, 10 interceptions (16 games).

Johnny U’s numbers are amazing after adding in the four game advantage that Manning received for the era he played in, but Manning still blows him out of the water in every possible way. Almost 100 more completions, close to 1,000 more passing yards, 7 more touchdowns and 8 less picks thrown. Both put up stellar stats, and both deserve the greatest respect for their individual efforts.

1959 Baltimore C0lts rushing stats: 435 attempts, 1,705 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns, 3.9 yards per attempt (12 games)

2004 Indianapolis Colts rushing stats: 427 rushing attempts, 1,852 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns, 4.3 yards per attempt (16 games)

The rushing yards/attempts etc. of each team also paint a nice picture of things. While I would have to give the nod to Manning in raw stats, I’m starting to think this battle is a bit more even, based on the fact that the 1959 Colts ran the ball more than the 2004 Colts did, even in 4 fewer games. So, this is something added to think about when making a final decision.

I almost wanted to lean towards a draw here, but I think that Unitas and his stats rely too heavily on “what if’s”, while Manning and his accomplishments are set in stone.

Advantage: Peyton Manning:

Pure passing skill-set is something that all quarterbacks should be judged on. How good or great of a passer is each quarterback? Because, at the end of the day, throwing the ball, and throwing it well is their job. Passing is the very thing that molds our perception of a quarterback. For an NFL QB, winning is a bi-product of an intelligent passing arsenal. There are certainly other things that play into a team’s success, but for an NFL QB, it has to start with smart decisions and the ability to use your time wisely and make things happen.

Peyton Manning Career Stats: 64.9 completion %, 5.5 TD%, 2.7 INT%, 7.6 yards per attempt, 94.9 QB rating.

Johnny Unitas Career Stats: 54.6 completion %, 5.6 TD%, 4.9 INT%, 7.8 yards per attempt, 78.2 QB rating.

Manning has an obvious advantage in completion percentage, TD to INT ratio and QB rating. The biggest unseen factor for this comparison is the fact that Unitas had some crummy seasons towards the end. Manning is yet to reach that stage in his career, and it’s impossible to predict how he’ll handle it. I still can’t argue with the numbers.

Advantage: Peyton Manning:

This is the part where I’ll mention personal accomplishments, along with team records and overall (in the words of Charlie Sheen) WINNING! We all know that both of these guys were tremendous players and that they both competed at the highest of levels. Everyone knows they both had great heart and they both brought great joy to an entire city during their time at the helm.They both had great pride and played the game with integrity and unrivaled passion for this great game. Johnny U is respected as the first GREAT quarterback in the history of football. I’ve heard so many great stories about Unitas and his greatness. On the flip side of that coin, I’ve lived Peyton Manning’s greatness. I’ve watched Manning pick apart opposing secondaries. I’ve seen him win at the highest levels and I truly believe he’s one of the greatest NFL players of all time.

Peyton Manning: 11x NFL Pro Bowler, 5x NFL First-Team All-Pro, 2x Bert Bell Award Winner (Player of the Year), 2005 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award,  4x NFL MVP (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009), 2006 NFL Super Bowl Champion, 2006 NFL Super Bowl MVP.

Team Stats: 141-67, 6x Division Champions, 2x Conference Champions, 2006 Super Bowl Champions.

Johnny Unitas: 10x Pro Bowler, 5x NFL First-Team All-Pro, 3x Bert Bell Award Winner (Player of the Year), 1970 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, 3x NFL MVP (1959, 1964, 1967), 3x NFL Champion (1958, 1959, 1968), 1970 NFL Super Bowl Champion.

Team Stats:  161-86-1, 2x Division Champions, 5x Conference Champions, 3x NFL Champions, 1x Super Bowl Champions.

The stats here are very close. These two players mirror each other almost to a T. However, Unitas led the Colts to 4 Championships, versus Manning’s 1. Given that their individual accomplishments are so close, the fact that Johnny U has won 3 more championships than Manning, clearly gives him the edge here.

Advantage: Johnny Unitas:

Overall, I believe this has been a great battle, manned by two very elite NFL talents. It makes it very difficult to make a decision, because I have truly become a huge fan of both of these players over the course of my research. With that said, there can be only one winner.I believe the nod goes to Peyton Manning. While Johnny Unitas was truly an incredible player, and the pulse of an entire culture, over the course of his legendary career.

I believe Manning is a modernized carbon copy of the sports icon we all know as Johnny U. It is VERY tough to argue era’s, but I think I’ve come the correct conclusion here. It’s almost as if Manning took Johnny U’s entire career and skill-set, put in the hours, hard work and dedication, and completely evolved that style into something even more special. I honestly can say that I have gained a new-found respect for the man who is Peyton Manning, and it’s possible, in my opinion, that he could very well go down as the best QB to ever play the game.

Winner: Peyton Manning:


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