Brady vs. Manning: the hype is right

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Nov 01, 2007



The basic problem with the modern pigskin "pundit" is that – in an era of 24-hour sports networks, endless sports radio blather and this thing called the interweb – they have vast amounts of space to fill in the time-sports continuum, and very little factual knowledge with which to fill it.
 
So they fill this space the easiest way possible, with the noxious fumes of opinion and hype, which expand quickly to fill any allotted space while suffocating sports fans with ignorance. 
 
The Game of the Millennium between New England and Indy, and the match-up of their All-World quarterbacks, is a perfect example. Talk of the game dominates virtually every single sports broadcast and website in America. It's a rare big-time event that provides a perfect opportunity for the hyperbole in which the "pundit" thrives.
 
But in one of those rare chemcial reactions on the periodic table of pigskin, the Cold, Hard Football Facts in this instance support the hype and hyperbole of the "pundits."
 
In fact, we'll go one step further:
 
Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback rivalry ... ever.
 
Here's why:
 
Statistical dominance
The NFL has massaged the passing game in recent decades, making it increasingly easier for quarterbacks to put up big numbers. But even here in the Era of Big Numbers, Brady and Manning stand head and shoulders above modern football history. 
 
Manning, of course, rewrote the record books with his phenomenal 2004 campaign, when he set records for single-season TD passes (49) and passer rating (121.1). He's on pace to smash almost every career passing record ever.
 
Brady, meanwhile, was not known as a "big-numbers" guy before 2007, but he was. He led the NFL in TD passes in 2002 (28); he led the league in passing yards in 2005 (4,110), he's out-produced virtually every Hall of Fame quarterback statistically at similar points in their careers, and he entered the 2007 season No. 8 on the all-time passer-rating list. Those seem like pretty big numbers to us. And as of today, Brady has the fifth-best career passer rating in NFL history and is on pace this year to set single-season records for passing TDs, passer rating, completion percentage. His 2007 Patriots are also on pace to become the most prolific offense in the history of football.
 
Parity-busting dominance
In the alleged era of parity, it's amazing how thoroughly these two teams and quarterbacks have dominated the rest of the league.
 
Consider that Manning-Dungy is the winningest QB-Coach combo in modern history, with a mark of 67-20 (.770). Brady-Belichick are No. 2, at 78-24 (.765).
 
The rankings flip-flop if we include postseason play. Brady-Belichick are No. 1 at 90-26 (.776). Manning-Dungy are No. 2 at 75-24 (.756). Brady, of course, has the No. 1 winning percentage of any quarterback in history.
 
If parity exists more today than it has in the past (it doesn't, but let's go along with the "pundit" storyline for the sake of argument), then it makes these unmatched marks of winning excellence even more impressive.
 
Interestingly, Manning and Brady last week became the first and only quarterbacks in NFL history to beat 31 different teams. Dungy and Belichick, meanwhile, are the only two coaches to beat 32 NFL teams (Dungy beat the Colts when he coached Tampa; Belichick beat the Patriots when he coached Cleveland).
 
Familiarity
Familiarity has always bred contempt in all of our relationships. It seems football rivalries are no different.
 
Brady's very first NFL start came against Manning and Indy, back in 2001 when the Colts and Patriots were still division rivals. The league realigned the following season, but Indy and New England still seem to square off every year. Sunday's game is the 10th meeting between Manning's Colts and Brady's Patriots.
 
Championship impact
It's nice that New England and Indy play a lot. It's compelling that the games almost always have an impact on the season's final outcome. The Patriots and Colts have combined to win Super Bowls in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2006. The winner of the season series between the two teams won the Super Bowl each of those four seasons. Indy-New England have also squared off three times in the playoffs this decade, with the winner of the game winning the Super Bowl each time.
 
The pedigrees
Chefs know that you need a little contrast in taste and texture to create a perfect dish, and football rivalries are no different: Manning and Brady offer pretty distinct pigskin pedigrees that make for great water-cooler talk. Manning is the Chosen Son of the South, groomed by one of the game's great personalities to become the Next Great Quarterback; a four-year starter at a big-time football power Tennessee; the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft; and an NFL starter from Day 1. Brady, as everybody knows by now, came into the NFL as an after-thought sixth-round draft pick and had to earn his hype with unmatched success on NFL football fields.
 
Manning is seen as the solid, Middle American family man; Brady, as the jet-setting stud and fashion magazine cover model from the West Coast who now enjoys the big city lifestyle of the East Coast.
 
History-making moments
Games are often touted as historic, but Sunday's meeting truly is: there has never been a meeting featuring two teams with a better combined record (15-0).
 
History-making moments between these two are nothing new. New England's record 21-game win streak included three wins over the Colts. While last year, the Colts beat the Patriots with the greatest championship-game comeback in NFL history.
 
MVP performers
Manning has won two regular-season MVP awards and one Super Bowl MVP award; Brady has won two Super Bowl MVP awards and is playing like he'll put his first regular-season MVP award on the mantle this winter. The New England-Indy game Sunday is the first regular-season meeting of Super Bowl MVP-winning quarterbacks since the Troy Aikman-Steve Young battles of the 1990s.
 
Ratings
Basically, the Patriots and Colts are the two teams everybody wants to watch, and the Brady and Manning are the two biggest reasons why. The proof is in the TV ratings.
 
Consider the Washington-New England blow-out last week: despite the 52-7 margin, it was the highest rated game of the week and drew 20.9 million viewers – more than any of the first three games of baseball's fall classic, the World Series. But even that audience last Sunday will be insignificant compared with the Nielsen numbers we'll see for New England-Indy 2007.
 
***
 
The Cold, Hard Football Facts do not take proclamations of "greatest ever" lightly. We handed down this verdict of the Brady-Manning rivalry only after a thorough study of the greatest QB battles of the pigskin past.
 
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 (1940, 1942, 1943), 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, which remains the second highest completion percentage ever; Luckman, believe it or not, remains Chicago's all-time leading passer, nearly 60 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) and 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 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 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).
 
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, 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 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 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.
 
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 this Sunday. 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 seventh season and – as this weekend's game shows – the hype shows no signs of ending anytime soon. In fact, it's only getting bigger.
 

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