"Aaron does a great job but I'd have to give it to Peyton," said former Bears coach and ESPN analyst Mike Ditka. "I just saw [his commercial Wednesday] morning and Manning took on another character -- you don't want a [skinny legs] Peyton Manning. That was pretty good acting. I thought he really did a great job."
In the great Manning vs. Rodgers debate, there is winning percentage (narrowly in Manning's favor), there is passer rating (Rodgers) and there are acting chops, which is just as highly contested among two of the most visible pitchmen in sports.
"In the long and illustrious history of QB thespians, from Joe Namath to Terry Bradshaw to Brett Favre, I'd say Manning and Rodgers are two of the best, if not the two best," said Richard Roeper, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and co-host of "Good Day Chicago." "They're the Ben Affleck [Rodgers] and Matt Damon [Manning] of quarterback actors!"
Roeper pointed to the ease with which each performed their roles.
"Both have a natural, casual style of acting," he said. "Manning has the edge in on-screen experience, and he seems a bit more willing to really put himself out there and make himself look silly, e.g., 'Really High Voice Peyton Manning.'
"But Rodgers is a better reactor than Manning. His dead-pan reaction shots in the 'Discount Double Check' ads are priceless. Also, it's hard to imagine Peyton doing anything other than light comedy, but I could see Rodgers pulling off a dramatic role on a TV show. Maybe there will be a 'CSI: Green Bay' one day! Rodgers also has more of a leading man persona. Manning is the likable sidekick type.
"My vote goes to Aaron Rodgers."
The quarterbacks, whose 6-0 teams clash Sunday night in Denver, have done national commercials for car companies (Manning: Buick, Rodgers: Ford), pizza (Manning: Papa John's, Rodgers: Pizza Hut) and insurance, where Manning can be seen singing in Nationwide ads while Rodgers is the Discount Double Check man for State Farm.
Manning, however, also includes Gatorade and DirecTV in his stable of endorsements, and leads all NFL players, according to the latest Forbes list, with $12 million in off-field earnings while Rodgers, at $7.5 million, comes in behind Drew Brees ($11 million) and Peyton's little brother Eli Manning ($8 million).
David O'Connor, who cast commercials for Manning and Rodgers through his O'Connor Casting Co., preferred to evaluate rather than judge the two.
"They're two completely different actors," O'Connor said. "Peyton Manning can throw himself into it and make fun of himself much more. He definitely goes for broader comedy, and they place him in that situation. He wouldn't be your straight-up actor but falls into much more of the stereotypically goofy characters."
Though both have appeared as themselves in TV shows, Rodgers, whose girlfriend is actress Olivia Munn, would have a better chance of transitioning to movie roles, O'Connor said.
"Aaron Rodgers is much more of a leading-man type," he said, agreeing with Roeper. "He has an action-hero quality to him. He underplays things nicely, he's the better-looking of the two, and he's much more natural in his delivery."
Manning gave a thumbs up on Wednesday to the Discount Double Check commercial Rodgers did with teammate B.J. Raji a few years ago.
"I think Aaron has done some ... great spots," Manning said. "The one with he -- and was it Raji a couple years ago -- is still one of the great ones. So he does a good job with them."
And Rodgers said he's been a fan of Manning on and off the field. "He's also great in his commercials," Rodgers said.
Ditka, who at 76 just shot a national spot for McDonald's with Jerry Rice, and is as "popular [a pitchman] as ever," according to his agent Steve Mandell, said he admires both quarterbacks. But they shouldn't be in a hurry to head for Hollywood.
"They've got pretty good careers last time I looked," Ditka said. "As much as people pay to make commercials, they make a lot more doing what they're doing."