Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson, Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, Jack Nicklaus vs. Arnold Palmer, Wayne Gretzky vs. Mario Lemieux, Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal.
These are just some of the best individual rivalries that we were blessed to experience at one point in our lives. But ofall the rivalries in the sports world, there was one that was missing last season. In 2011, arguably the best individual rivalry was put on pause, as Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was unable to compete in a head-to-head duel against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots due to a neck injury, which caused him to miss the whole season.
Manning is back, but will be representing a new team in 2012. Instead of the familiar blue horseshoe on the side of his helmet, Manning will sport the orange outlined white horse of the Broncos, as he signed a five-year deal worth $96 million deal on Tuesday with Denver. He'll look to do something that hasn't been done since the John Elway era; he'll try to win a Super Bowl for the Mile High city.
Something that probably crossed Manning's mind during this free agency process was the Broncos' schedule. It just so happens that one of the games on Denver's schedule is a regular season clash with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. That means that we're going to write a new chapter in the historic Brady vs. Manning rivalry in 2012... And I couldn't be any more excited.
Two of the greatest quarterbacks the game has ever seen have been knocking each other around for nearly a decade now. Brady holds the All-Time record between the two with a 6-3 overall record and a 3-1 Super Bowl count, but Manning seems to get more recognized by the league in terms of individual accolades with five MVPs to Brady's two and 11 Pro Bowl selections compared to Tom's seven.
The last game that these two ended up playing against each other came back in November of 2010, when James Sanders stalled a potential Peyton game winning drive with an interception to preserve a 31-28 Pats win. While I was freakin' happy at the time it happened (relive that moment here), I would feel some sadness later when I thought that could be the last moment in the Brady-Manning rivalry. It just didn't seem appropriate. I wanted more.
Well now, we will get that opportunity to see the epic rivalry at least once more, as the two could meet up again in the playoffs. How awesome would it be to welcome Peyton's Broncos into Gillette on a crisp 20 degree Saturday night with heavy snow blowing through the air? Maybe not so much for the fan in the building at that particular point in time, but that sort of thing brings back memories to 2003 and 2004. Oh, how I miss the dynasty years. Anyways, lets get back to Peyton (and I apologize ahead of time for kissing Peyton's butt in these next few paragraphs)...
There's been some talk that the Broncos may or may not have what it takes to provide the necessary effort needed to help Peyton make a serious playoff run. They aren't experienced enough, they were a one-year wonder, they may not even get past the Chargers or the Raiders next year. I counter it all with three words: 2011 Indianapolis Colts
Besides the fact that Manning was a mere spectator last season, nothing changed on the Colts in terms of personnel. Nothing at all. The only difference was that the tired old mule made up of Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky took his place. As a result, the team finished 2-14 and will have the No. 1 pick in the draft this year. Bye bye sure fire playoff years, hello rebuilding years.
Peyton Manning is what makes them go, what makes them click. It certainly showed last year. With him, that's a 10-6 ball club. Without, it's a pile of junk with a sign that reads "Blow Me Up, Jim Irsay."
If Tim Tebow could win a football game by completing two passes all game, imagine what a future NFL Hall of Famer could do with this team and in this division? Tebowmania was what Denver needed to get back invested into football. Tebow did his job, and now it's time for Manning to try and get that ring Denver fans have been craving since the Elway years.
Another concern that is often brought up is whether or not Manning can actually play following his injury. And with good reason too. There was much debate about whether or not Manning was going to have to retire from the NFL. Peyton sustained a ruptured disk in his neck, which put the stability of his neck in jeopardy had he played last season. With a year off from football, Manning says the neck has healed fully and he has reportedly looked good in his workouts. This guy's still going to be "in the head" of defenses all around the league, including the Patriots.
The man's no Brett Favre (who would still be effective playing through significant injury). However, I still believe that Peyton Manning is one of the only quarterbacks in the NFL who could perform at an extremely high level after an injury like that. If he didn't think it was possible, he'd be sitting in Indianapolis at home on his couch and reporting to duty at ESPN rather than training camp at the start of the season.
My point in all of this is that Peyton Manning may show signs of rust, but he's gonna be ready when he takes the field in Foxborough. But as of right now, Tom Brady is the better quarterback. For one, he played last season and he's hungrier than any other player on the Patriots roster to avenge the Super Bowl loss to the Giants. Brady guided his Patriots to another division title and a No. 1 seed in the AFC and even broke passing records. All of this occurred, while Manning watched his team lose game after game after game.
You can't tell me that wasn't bother him. Watching your arch rival succeed while you sit on the bench powerless probably doesn't feel good.
Manning's absence also affected Brady, believe it or not. Don't get me wrong, Brady performed at an MVP caliber level and did a lot of things. Heck, he got New England back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2007. But something wasn't right about this Super Bowl run. Something was missing.
Tom didn't have to go through Peyton to get there. Two of Brady's three Super Bowl rings came in a year in which he took out Peyton in the AFC Championship. Call me crazy, but not having Manning in a playoff showdown most likely hurt Brady's fire to win this Super Bowl. A fire that was extinguished by Manning's little brother in the Super Bowl.
One thing rivals do to one another is that they bring out the best in one another. All of the rivalries listed above were two competitors who made each other better and helped fuel the other's fire. There's not a better example out there than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
When Manning signed with the Broncos and not the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday, I felt as if there was something extra to look forward to when football rolls around in September. It'll be different. It'll we weird. It's not going to feel the same. But heck, it's two legendary quarterback rivals going at it. It's the best individual rivalry in sports. It's Brady vs. Manning and it's back, baby!