Man­ning vs. brady

Sun­day marks the 17th— and pos­si­bly fi­nal— meet­ing be­tween th­ese iconic quar­ter­backs.

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Troy E. Renck

As he lay in his bed in New Or­leans, the kid had a dream. Pey­ton Man­ning lis­tened to cas­sette tapes of his fa­mous father Archie’s games at the Univer­sity of Mis­sis­sippi. He mem­o­rized the play­ers, their home­towns. In his dream, Pey­ton wanted to play quar­ter­back like his dad.

Now a lot of kids have a dream. They want to be like Pey­ton Man­ning, many of whom are named af­ter him in In­di­ana and Colorado. He makes the imag­i­na­tion run wild. For 17 years, Man­ning has bro­ken ev­ery mean­ing­ful NFL pass­ing record. He threw for 55 touch­downs in 2013.

His legacy of great­ness re­mains breath­tak­ing — ex­cept by com­par­i­son to one man. For the past 15 years, Pey­ton Man­ning and Tom Brady have in­ter­sected in ar­guably the NFL’s most mean­ing­ful mo­ments. They have played 16 times. Man­ning owns five vic­to­ries, Brady 11.

In the past, when both were at their zenith, Sun­day would be billed as the War of 1812. This AFC cham­pi­onship game has taken on a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive, a nod to Den­ver’s top-ranked de­fense and sud­denly pro­lific run­ning game.

It is the AFC cham­pi­onship with a Su­per Bowl berth at stake. But when it comes to Man­ning and Brady, it feels like a last dance.

“All I can say about Tom Brady is he plays the po­si­tion the­way it’s sup­posed to be played,” Man­ning said. “He’s ex­tremely tal­ented. He’s a very hard worker, very com­pet­i­tive guy and he just plays the po­si­tion the right way. When you do that, there’s a rea­son you play for a long time and play well for a long time. There have been a lot of dif­fer­ent play­ers that have played in 16 of those games, but as the quar­ter­back, it’s al­ways been a great honor and priv­i­lege to have com­peted against him that many times over the course of the past 16, 17 years.”

Brady views Man­ning with mu­tual re­spect, re­flect­ing how they are more alike than dif­fer­ent. First man at prac­tice, last to leave. High foot­ball IQ.

“Just his con­sis­tency, the dura­bil­ity, his abil­ity to al­ways seem to come through,” Brady said on what he ad­mires about Man­ning. “He’s just been an in­cred­i­ble player, and in­cred­i­ble leader for his team.”

Five play­off meet­ings

It helps the ri­valry that they have made a habit of meet­ing when it mat­ters most, five times in the play­offs, more than any two quar­ter­backs in NFL his­tory. Sun­day marks the fourth time in the con­fer­ence ti­tle game. Man­ning is 2-1. Con­sider that John El­way and Dan Marino, whose ca­reers par­al­leled, played only three times and once in the post­sea­son.

It strains the imag­i­na­tion to be­lieve Man­ning will be in this po­si­tion again. He is 39 with an un­cer­tain fu­ture in Den­ver given the ex­pected tran­si­tion to Brock Osweiler. Man­ning has ad­mit­ted in re­cen­tweeks that the torn plan­tar fas­cia in his left foot caused him to re­flect. He has made a point to en­joy this week, to soak up the mo­ments on the ad­vice of coach Gary Ku­biak.

Man­ning vs. Brady one more time, prob­a­bly for the last time.

“It’s been a great ri­valry. I don’t know that there’s been an­other one like it when you think of the num­ber of times they have played. You knowthe his­tory with it, they are both first-bal­lot Hall of Famers,” said El­way, the Bron­cos gen- eral man­ager. “I don’t know that there’s an­other one like it. I think it’s nice to have it here at home. It’s what you work for all year to get to this point.”

For Brady, this has be­come a reg­u­lar sub­way stop in the New Eng­land ex­press. This is Brady’s 10th AFC cham­pi­onship game, and his fifth con­sec­u­tive. The last team to pull this off was the Oak­land Raiders, whose streak of dom­i­nance ended at the hands of the Bron­cos’ Or­ange crush in 1977. Brady is 38 and ag­ing like Ben­jamin But­ton. He looks as com­fort­able in the pocket now as he does in a pair of Uggs.

“Few have his makeup,” said Tom House, a for­mer pitch­ing coach and ro­ta­tional me­chan­ics guru who has worked with Brady and be­lieves he can ex­cel into his 40s. “Few have that dom­i­nat­ing be­lief and abil­ity to fo­cus and con­cen­trate on the process like Brady.”

The idea that Man­ning and Brady would in­ter­sect in the record books, in pop cul­ture and on any list of great ri­val­ries is hard to fathom. They grewup in op­po­site ends of the coun­try. Man­ning spent his child­hood in New Or­leans. He starred at Isi­dore New­man School. He mor­phed into the na­tion’s top re­cruit, buck­ing con­ven­tion and at­tend­ing the Univer­sity of Ten­nessee rather than Ole Miss. The In­di­anapo­lis Colts made him the No. 1 pick in 1998.

Brady was a late bloomer. Ac­cord­ing to “Brady vs. Man­ning: The Un­told Story of the Ri­valry that Changed the NFL,” Brady’s fresh­man team at Ju­nipero Serra High School in San Ma­teo, Calif., went 0-8 and didn’t score a touch­down. And Brady wasn’t good enough to start. Lightly re­cruited, Brady went to Michi­gan, go­ing 20-5 as a starter while con­stantly look­ing over his shoul­der. The Pa­tri­ots drafted him with the 199th pick in 2000.

All he has done since is win four Su­per Bowl rings and cre­ate a com­pelling case that he’s the great­est quar­ter­back of all time.

“Tom Brady and (coach) Bill Belichick,” said Bron­cos cor­ner­back Aqib Talib when asked to ex­plain the Pa­tri­ots’ suc­cess, while not­ing there’s no one tougher to face in the play­offs than Brady. “That’s the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor, the two things that have been there the whole time. It’s a great show when Man­ning and Brady play. It’s ex­tra cam­eras, ex­tra me­dia. Of course ev­ery­body wants to see them com­pete against each other.”

Diver­gent paths

Com­par­isons sur­faced last­week be­tween Larry Bird and Magic John­son. The com­mon­thread is ex­cel­lence and con­tests de­cid­ing cham­pi­onships. Bird and Magic, in the eyes of many, saved the NBA. Man­ning and Brady el­e­vated the NFL as lead­ing char­ac­ters in the sport’smush­room­ing pop­u­lar­ity.

Time is short for Man­ning. He has not de­cided whether he will play next sea­son. If he walks off into an or­ange sun­set as the old­est quar­ter­back to win a Su­per Bowl, break­ing El­way’s record, why would he con­tinue? His legacy is safe. And it will al­ways be one of prepa­ra­tion. Man­ning rev­o­lu­tion­ized the quar­ter­back po­si­tion, turn­ing it into “a sci­ence,” as for­mer NFL MVP Rich Gan­non put it. Man­ning’s brain is the “All-22” film, cal­cu­lat­ing where ev­ery­one should be on ev­ery play, cre­at­ing breath­tak­ing ac­cu­racy on well­timed passes.

Brady, too, rolls up his sleeves. His study is slightly dif­fer­ent. He seems to un­der­stand his own of­fense bet­ter than any player in the league. He ex­cels at win­ning oneon-one matchups, and no one func­tions as in­de­pen­dently as him. Brady wins when he throws 50 times, he wins with­out a run­ning at­tack, he wins with re­ceivers known only by close friends and rel­a­tives.

“As far as Tom Brady is con­cerned, I don’t think he’s a cry­baby, I don’t think he’s a whiner. I think he’s a great com­peti­tor,” Bron­cos de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­torWade Phillips said. “They say you can’t pass ev­ery down and win. He can.”

Their path to this meet­ing was unique, if not painful. Man­ning missed six games with his foot in­jury and led the league in in­ter­cep­tions un­til the fi­nal week of the sea­son. Brady played with the specter of De­flate­gate hang­ing over him, his four-game ban lifted just days be­fore open­ing day. He turned this sea­son into a mid­dlefin­ger re­demp­tion tour.

In the end, the two aren’t known for in­juries or con­tro­ver­sies. They are known­for their gamesto­gether. Man­ning vs. Brady. One last dance?

“I thinkplay­ing­some­one17 times is pretty cool; es­pe­cially some­one as great as him,” Brady said. “To play against those Pey­ton Man­ning-led teams, you know you’ve got to play 60 min­utes and you’re go­ing to be in for a tough game.”

Bron­cos quar­ter­back Pey­ton Man­ning, 39, hasn’t said whether he will play be­yond this sea­son.

Al Bello, Getty Im­ages

NewEng­land Pa­tri­ots’TomBrady win­swhen he throws 50 times a game, and he wins with­out a run­ning at­tack.

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