It’s not Brady-Manning, so stop it. This is not an argument, any more than Tom Brady is an ordinary joe anymore. No, Tom Brady is a guy who wears Donald Trump hats because they’re celebrity buddies, and who rails against Frosted Flakes, and who calls the chairman of JPMorgan Chase after his company lost US$6.2-billion in trading to say “hang in there,” at the behest of another investment banker who is a pal. Tom Brady is the nouveau riche, the organic aristocracy, the fashionista, the greatest, the champ. It’s hard to argue this.
And then there’s Peyton Manning. Nobody takes Manning’s side in the argument over who’s the better quarterback, even though Manning has five MVPs to Brady’s one, even though Manning has outplayed Brady in two AFC championship games to one, even though he’s piled up all those numbers, even though . . . well, that’s it, right? His best celebrity pal is Papa John, or maybe Jim Nantz. Neither of them will be the worst president in history, or will wreck the global economy. Amateurs.
No, nobody takes Peyton Manning over Tom Brady, because Brady’s been to six Super Bowls and won four and lost the other two by seven points combined, and had worse receivers. Manning’s one Super Bowl win came against Rex Grossman (after toppling Brady and the Patriots, natch). The fine points get brushed into a giant pile, and Bill Belichick is on one side and not the other, and everyone thinks Brady is better. It’s the rule. The rivalry, such as it is, is not a legacy thing anymore. Tom Brady is Joe Montana and Peyton Manning is Dan Marino. Done.
But it’s still a game, and the game isn’t just those guys, even in a league where quarterbacks are king. Manning just can’t throw very far anymore. When he tries, he has no idea where it’s going. Every drive against Pittsburgh was cobbled together in tiny pieces, and even if his receivers didn’t drop about 14 balls, Manning isn’t even a game manager anymore: he’s basically Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, right after getting mauled by the bear.
(I have not seen the movie. I only really saw Mad Max and Star Wars in 2015. I have many children.)
No, if not for Vontaze Burfict’s Mad Max game against Pittsburgh, Denver’s season would be over. But it’s not, and there’s no use pretending this is another gunfight. Quarterbacks are the sum of several parts, and we still ignore this. If you don’t have a reliable offensive line, you better have quick receivers and a coach who can design a mess of short passes. If you don’t have receivers who can get open, you better have an offensive line and a running game. You don’t have an arm, you better have a defence that destroys people. On that last point, Manning might.
In those e-mails that got unsealed as part of the great Deflategate opera, Brady wrote to a pal in 2014 about the Brady-Manning rivalry and said, “I’ve got another seven or eight years. He has two. That’s the final chapter. Game on.”
He may have been slightly overestimating Manning, if anything. No, Brady is the favourite in this game, and he’s probably headed for his record seventh Super Bowl. The sixth-round pick is the establishment, and the No. 1 pick is the underdog, again.
Still, imagine if he did it. Imagine if Peyton Manning cobbled together his bits of string and yarn, some dryer lint, some leaves, some gum, and create a touchdown drive or two. Imagine if the snarling Denver defence could cover short and intermediate passes, and Bill Belichick didn’t have enough answers.
Imagine, after all this, if Peyton Manning won. Man, that would be funny. Until the Super Bowl, anyway.