The road to Houston was paved with pure sweat, guile and determination for both the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots. Both teams epitomize complete team play and coaching concepts. But at the helm, the quick hands and steady heads of Tom Brady and Jake Delhomme have enabled two low-scoring and sometimes questionable offenses to complement their powerful defensive attacks.
The onus will be on both quarterbacks to play well on Sunday. And while both have their own unique styles, they share the uncanny ability to pull through in clutch, down-to-the-wire situations.
In one corner, there's the now wiley veteran, albeit three-year starter, Tom Brady, who has the been-there, done-that advantage. Not long ago, Brady was thrust into the Super Bowl XXXVI spotlight. Knowing the ropes of the media circus that is Super Bowl week, certainly plays to Brady's favor.
Brady's demeanor is such that he's unfazed by the hoopla. Like a commuter stuck in traffic, he'll see this week's distractions a mere obstacles, easily overcome, en route to completing his job. But that's just his way. If anything, he runs the risk of being too complacent, but that's not likely either.
When I think of Tom Brady, the word "discipline" comes to mind. His unwavering commitment and determination makes him, in my opinion, the best quarterback in football. Sure, I can also make a case for the league's co-MVP, Peyton Manning. But unlike my fellow ESPN brethren Sean Salisbury, I believe that Brady has the stronger arm. Brady also manages the game extremely well, but it's his discipline that puts him over the top.
Conversely, Delhomme takes a more excitable, high-strung approach to the game. He actually reminds me a little bit of myself, back in the day. I remember, sometimes I'd get so excited that I'd almost exhaust myself. I call it, "adrenaline depletion," meaning by the time you get to the huddle, you're so hyped-up, you're practically out of breath and huffing and puffing while calling out plays.
That same passion has also enabled Delhomme to exceed just about everyone's expectations this season. Predicated on the run and their defensive play, Delhomme has done a terrific job of managing the Panthers offense. And when it comes down to relying on a quarterback who can make the big play, with no time on the clock, or deep in overtime, Delhomme ranks up there with the best.
Nonetheless, it will be important for him to keep those emotions in check on Sunday. Remember, this is an entirely new experience for him, both on and off the field. So, he bares the burden of facing the unknown.
For Delhomme, it's almost more about the journey than the destination. Win or lose, he'll learn and grow from this Super Bowl experience, just as Tom Brady did, when he relished the moment and overcame the underdog status just two years ago.
A game analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Football, former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann won a Super Bowl and a league MVP award. He contributes regularly to ESPN.com.