Ozzie Newsome joined the Baltimore Ravens' front office in 1996, the team's inaugural season, two years before the Colts drafted Peyton Manning and four seasons ahead of Tom Brady's arrival in New England. Newsome helped guide the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory after the 2000 season, then Brady took the Patriots to three titles in four years. As the general manager of the presiding Super Bowl champions, Newsome has only two more weeks to savor last year's win over the 49ers before another team -- quite possibly led by Manning or Brady -- ends the Ravens' reign.
Late last week, after a series of grinding personnel meetings, Newsome pondered this deliciously hypothetical question: How would NFL history have been different if Manning had gone to the Patriots and Brady had worn a Colts jersey before a rebirth in Denver?
"Oh, man," said Newsome, laughing in his Maryland office. "Let me think about that."
He paused, then started running through the scenarios: Manning paired with Bill Belichick's defense; Brady teamed with executive Bill Polian and coach Tony Dungy. Manning to Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski; Brady to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Wes Welker, of course, accepting passes from both, just in a different order.
"Having watched both of them over the years, it's tough," Newsome continued. "There are so many variables. I'm going to say ..."
Hold that thought, Ozzie.
We took this intriguing premise to more than a dozen NFL aficionados, including a two-time Super Bowl coach, a Heisman Trophy winner, a pair of Hall of Famers plus former teammates and league officials and analysts. They spoke on and off the record, not wishing to offend either quarterback with purely theoretical conjecture. Most of them were unabashed Manning or Brady guys, and it's a slippery slope: If you praise one, you might inadvertently bury the other.
We're the first to admit it's a far-fetched concept, latching onto this week's big headline with an eye toward generating page views. We wrote thousands of words when they met in Week 12. What possibly could be left to say?
This is what we came up with. Cheesy, you say? Fair enough. It's a free country. Stop reading.
On the other hand ... isn't this really what fantasy football is all about? Suspend your disbelief, dear reader, and imagine a ubiquitous Brady shilling on television for cars and pizza, while Manning lounges at home with his supermodel wife -- because she makes more than he does.
Let's mull these mind-melting possibilities:
If Manning had spent his career with the Patriots, would Bill Belichick be considered the towering genius he is today? Or might he have five Super Bowl rings as a head coach? Some among our experts insist the answers are no -- and yes.
If Polian and the Colts had gotten Brady with the 199th pick of the 2000 draft, would Brady be destined to finish as the most prolific quarterback of all time, somewhere well past Brett Favre? Yes, a number of our experts believe.