Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. The Greatest Rivalry Of All Time?

by Kolby Solinsky

Editor, White Cover Magazine

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“Varying styles. Varying ethos. The biggest element is that you use the other guy, the other team, as the standard.” – NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton, on a rival

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You can hear that Daft Punk song playing. Not out loud, but in your head. One more time. We gonna celebra-a-ate. Oh yeah. Alright. And yet, to associate the impending Brady v. Manning V (or whatever it is now) with “one more time” or “it all comes down to this” or “some text you’d see fly at you in a movie trailer”… well, it’s bittersweet.

It means we could only have one of these left, and that’s tragic. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have been enemies for years, but enemies who are loved for their own reasons. And both are respected because they deserve it. They’ve forever (it seems that long anyway) been each other’s counterpoint – to borrow from Owen Wilson’s bumper sticker in Wedding Crashers – and their combined longevity is as staggering a run of consistency as the National Football League has maybe ever seen. They’ve shucked away the routine quarterbacks that have upended them or stolen a few Super Bowls along the way, like Peyton’s own brother Eli, like Ben Roethlisberger, like Joe Flacco, and like Brad Johnson, I guess.

But even as flavours of the year rise (Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, or Colin Kaepernick) and steal a little bit of the pie, the phrase “Brady v Manning” means as much now as it did 10 years ago. Through neck surgeries and an ugly divorce. Through rotating receivers and what was basically a real divorce. They’re still here, they’re still the best.

And yet, of course, it’s a time to celebrate. Because rivalries like this don’t come along very often and they should be enjoyed while they can. If this is the last one, let’s try to remember it.

Simple as that, and still not quite.

Because we’ve had Federer v. Nadal and we’ve had Gretzky v. Lemieux. Those were both head-to-head rivalries that were actual friendly competitions – as in, the athletes were friends – and the debate between whose side you fell on was more about who you were as a fan than it was about those players.

We’ve also had Red Sox v. Yankees. Sh*t like that. The sorts of rivalries that result in fans being beaten with sacks of batteries. Well, not quite. But it could result in others mocking you when you’re trying to lift your city’s spirits after a deadly bombing during an annual tradition. Oh, that was Toronto that did that. Okay, well, the point is… sports can be ugly.

But Manning and Brady is something different. Sure, fans of Manning cheer against the Patriots and vice versa, but you’re rarely going to hear a Brady fan express anything other than a guilty admiration for Peyton. They love Brady and they’ll root for him all day, but do they actually think Peyton is anything less than excellent? Doubt it. And again, vice versa.

In the NFL, Brady and Manning are both Derek Jeter.

And here’s the really great part… they’re quarterbacks.

Unlike tennis, where the two guys are literally hitting back at one another. Unlike hockey or basketball or soccer or whatever, where you see your rival at the faceoff dot or at the rim or (soccer equivalent) on every play, Brady and Manning have never been on the field at the same time.

Their rivalry, in the game, is poetic. It’s shot after shot after shot, but it’s the other guys who bear the brunt of their competition. Manning and Brady can compliment each other all they want, because they know the most contact they’ll ever have is the post-game handshake.

Each of their destinies (as quarterbacks, not winners) is entirely in their own hands.

That whole ‘Manning v. Brady’ thing is basically a social construct. But the great part is, the two guys believe it, too. They want the victory, not just to win but to beat each other.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch. And I can’t wait ’til Sunday.