Brady-Manning: A Rivalry Of Unrivaled Impact

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Nov 24, 2013

(Note: we had Brady-Manning XIV covered from every angle this week: Vegas wise guys discuss New England's 8-4-1 record ATS vs. Manning; Week 12 snapshot images and facts; and our Real and Spectacular Broncos-Patriots pick, breaking down the game with 23 Quality Stats)  

By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Nuclear Option (@footballfacts)

We hope fans appreciate the history unfolding before their eyes when Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos take the field against Tom Brady’s New England Patriots Sunday night in frosty Foxboro (projected weather at kickoff: 21 degrees, 5 with the wind chill).

Manning vs. Brady is the greatest quarterback rivalry in football history – and likely to remain that way for decades to come.  Quarterback, meanwhile, is the most important and most high profile position in North American sports, which puts Manning vs. Brady on the short list of greatest rivalries in any sport.

We declared Brady-Manning the greatest QB rivarly in history as early as 2007.

The historic impact of the rivalry has only grown in more recent years, even if the players themselves maintain what appears from a distance a chummy if informal friendship.

On the field, their rivalry is more intense and more important in the annual race to the Super Bowl than any in history.

As we enter Brady-Manning XIV, the Patriots hold a 9-4 advantage over Manning since their first meeting (and Brady’s first NFL start) back in 2001, played just a couple weeks after 9-11. The 0-2 Patriots beat the 2-0 Colts, 44-13, launching their improbable Super Bowl run and a dynasty in the process. Not a bad bit of history for a first meeting.

The Patriots are also 8-4-1 against the spread in those 13 games.

More importantly, almost all 13 previous meetings (10 in the regular season, three in the postseason) had a direct impact on the Super Bowl.

What separates Brady-Manning from other famed QB rivalries is that never before have two regular-season and Super MVP quarterbacks who produced record-setting numbers and who were also bona fide first-ballot Hall of Famers midway through their respective careers met so often in such meaningful games year after year.


Brady-Manning: Rivalry of Unrivaled Impact

The winner of the regular season series between Brady's Patriots and Manning's Colts and Broncos gained home-field advantage over the other in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010). That's eight of the last 12 seasons, for those of you keeping score at home.

It might be 10 of last 12 seasons if not for the fact each QB missed an entire season (Brady in 2008; Manning in 2011).

Only in 2012 did the Brady-Manning regular-season loser gain an upper-hand in the AFC seeding process.

But New England’s 31-21 win over the Broncos proved a strong litmus test of the relative merits of each team anyway: Denver was bounced from the playoffs without a win; New England ended up hosting (though losing) the AFC championship game.

Perhaps even more impressive: The winner of the Brady-Manning regular-season series went on to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011.

That’s seven of the last 12 seasons that these two quarterbacks powered their teams to an AFC title.

There's a good chance this game Sunday night will directly impact the Super Bowl picture, too: the winner will likely gain homefield advantage over the eye in the postseason once again; the loser will have a hard time fighting its way back to a top-two seed.

If Manning's Broncos lose tonight, they essentially have to win out the rest of the way to grab the AFC West title (and a bye) away from the Chiefs, who they visit next week.

If Brady's Patriots lose tonight, they also essentially have to win out, to insure they can beat out the Bengals or Colts in the race for the AFC's No. 2 seed and a wildcard week bye.

So once again, we're looking at a regular-season Brady-Manning meeting with huge postseason significance.

Here's a look at the greatest QB rivalries through the decades, and why each fails to live up to the impact of Brady-Manning. 


Sammy Baugh vs. Sid Luckman (1940s)

These guys basically invented modern quarterbacking, turning it into a position we'd recognize today: the guy who takes almost every snap and is generally the sole player responsible for passing the ball.


They played three times for the NFL championship in 1940, 1942 and 1943 (Baugh pictured here vs. the Bears in 1942) and were as great as any quarterbacks who have ever played the game, putting up numbers that have stood the test of time.

Baugh, the quarterback on the Cold, Hard Football Facts All-Time 11, completed 70.3 percent of his passes in 1945, a record broken only recent. Luckman, believe it or not, remains Chicago's all-time leading passer, 63 years after he last suited up for a game.

Why it fails to live up to Brady-Manning:

As good as they were, nobody saw Baugh and Luckman play except the folks in attendance on gameday; they  dominated the NFL in the talent-depleted World War II Era, when many of the game's greats were off fighting more important battles.


Otto Graham vs. Norm Van Brocklin/Bob Waterfield (1950s)

Graham led the greatest dynasty in football history, the 1950s Browns; Van Brocklin and Waterfield were the two-headed Hall of Fame monster who quarterbacked the greatest offensive juggernaut in NFL history, the 1950s Rams. 

These guys met in the NFL championship game three times in six years (1950, 1951 and 1955).

They essentially were the sexiest quarterbacking stars during the decade in which the NFL began to come of age.

L.A. hotshot Waterfield, for example, gave the rivalry the social-pages sizzle Brady-Bundchen does today.

He married buxom Hollywood hottie Jane Russell, she of some of the most amazing breasts in pre-plastic surgery Tinseltown history.


Why it fails to live up to Brady-Manning:

Van Brocklin and Waterfield had their own little rivalry going on within the Rams organization, as the two Hall of Famers vied to lead the most explosive offense in history; the third wheel, as it always does, tends to ruin a relationship and makes for confusing pre-game hype headlines.


Bart Starr vs. Johnny Unitas (1960s)

Starr and Unitas won eight championships between them in the 13 seasons from 1958 to 1970. They were the NFL's two most recognizable names of the 1960s, the era in which pro football became the undisputed king of North American sports, they both put up historic numbers, and were winners in what are probably the two most famous games in NFL history (Unitas in the 1958 championship game, Starr in the Ice Bowl). If not for Brady vs. Manning, this would probably be No. 1.


Why it fails to live up to Brady-Manning:

Playing mostly in an era when their were no playoffs, only a single NFL championship game, Starr and Unitas never met in the postseason. They had a chance, once, in 1965, when the Packers and Colts faced off in a rare tie-breaker playoff to determine the West's representative in the NFL title game.

But Unitas was injured, so Baltimore's  quarterbacking duties fell to running back Tom Matte and football fans were robbed off a chance to see two of the game's greatest quarterbacks square off for the one and only time in a do-or-die battle. 


Terry Bradshaw vs. Oakland's Ken Stabler (1970s)

Bradshaw and Stabler were the two most high-profile players on two of the most high-profile teams of the 1970s; both were Super Bowl winners and from 1972 to 1979, at least one of these quarterbacks led their team to the AFC championship game.

The two squared off to in the AFC title game three straight years from 1974 to 1976, with the winner going on to capture the Lombardi Trophy each time. 

The Steelers and Raiders also played a number of memorable regular-season games from 1973-79 that had an impact on the playoff picture.


Why it fails to live up to Brady-Manning:

Stabler crafted one of the great seasons in NFL history in his championship year of 1976, but put up some rough numbers in many other years and today finds himself on the outside looking in at the Hall of Fame.

Even adjusted for their Dead Ball Era rivalry – in which it was incredibly difficult to pass – the lifetime numbers of Bradshaw-Stabler pale in comparison to Brady-Manning.

Bradshaw is one of the best big-game quarterbacks of all time, but even for his era, his regular-season production was hardly great and, at times, downright awful.


Bradshaw vs. Roger Staubach (1970s)

The uber-talented glamour quarterbacks of the NFL's marquee franchises of the 1970s combined for six Super Bowl championships and three Super Bowl MVP awards over the course of the decade.

They also met twice in two of the most exciting Super Bowls of all time. Bradshaw was one of the best big-game quarterbacks in history.

Staubach retired with the highest passer rating in history (83.4, since surpassed by many players from the pass-happy years that followed).

Why it fails to live up to Brady-Manning:

The rivalry was elevated mostly by the hype of the two Super Bowl games against each other. Playing in different conferences, they rarely squared off in the regular season. And both were surrounded by tons of Hall of Fame talent, which means they didn't quite lord over the image of their teams the way Brady and Manning do today.


Dan Marino vs. Joe Montana (1980s)

Marino vs. Montana was the great quarterbacking debate of the 1980s. The two are Hall of Famers, put up amazing numbers and their names alone reek of quarterbacking awesomeness.

Why it fails to live up to Brady-Manning:

Marino vs. Montana was more a rivalry in the sports pages than it was on the football field. Playing in different conferences, the two squared off just four times in the regular season. And their lone postseason meeting in Super Bowl XIX turned out to be no contest at all.

Montana's 15-1 49ers destroyed Marino's 14-2 Dolphins, 38-16, in what was supposed to be one of the great power match-ups in history. They were awesome, but they never produced the annual head-to-head fireworks of Brady-Manning.


Steve Young vs. Troy Aikman (1990s)

Young & Aikman were the last two Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks to face off in the regular-season before Brady-Manning played each other last season.

They met in the NFC title game three straight years from 1992 to 1994, with the winner capturing the Lombardi Trophy each time. Young's 49ers and Aikman's Cowboys also played a series of memorable regular-season games, too.

Why it fails to live up to Brady-Manning:

Young and Aikman won every NFL championship from 1992 to 1995 and then – poof! – the rivalry was essentially over. Neither won another NFL title and their teams fell from their lofty heights soon after.

The Brady-Manning rivalry, meanwhile, is now in its 13 season and its 14th meeting, It won’t be around much longer, so fans should enjoy it while they can.

And maybe hope for a Brady-Manning XV in January.

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