It isn’t all about the two quarterbacks. But Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady seems a popular place to start.
For the third time in their inevitable Hall of Fame careers, Manning and Brady will meet Sunday in the AFC Championship Game. The “War of 1812” — their combined jersey numbers — the pundits are calling it.
But stop right there. Was Terry Bradshaw any better than Roger Staubach? Is Eli Manning better than Brady, since Eli’s New York Giants have beaten the New England Patriots in two Super Bowls?
NFL fans know better. Yet if any pro football matchup speaks to the parameters that a quarterback controls, Peyton Manning v. Brady is it.
In 14 meetings over their illustrious careers, Brady’s team has been victorious 10 times. If both men adhere to the charts, therefore, the Patriots will win Sunday, or so they seem to be wagering in New England.
Though the Denver Broncos will be hosting the title game, it is Manning who is presumed to be carrying all the baggage. Brady has been to the Super Bowl on five occasions, winning three times, and Peyton has made the big game twice, winning only Super Bowl XLI.
Manning’s teams have lost 11 of 21 postseason games — a losing record. The alleged wizards in Vegas seem to be nudging you that this is the way to bet.
But stop right there. If only offenses mattered in football, the Dallas Cowboys might have still been playing this week. Manning made it to the Super Bowl after the 2009 season despite a defense that ranked 18th in yards allowed and a running game that was 32nd — last — in the NFL.
Brady, meanwhile, has had Bill Belichick and football’s best organization. Over the past 13 seasons, the Patriots have missed the playoffs only twice.
If New England wins in Denver, however, the knee-jerk storyline appears to be already inked and ready to go — Peyton chokes again.
But stop right there. Manning is no Jim Kelly, no eternal bridesmaid, no Danny White.
“It’s amazing,” Dan Shaughnessy wrote in the Boston Globe. “Manning has morphed into Wilt Chamberlain.”
For those under the age of 50, the legendary Wilt won two titles in his 14-season NBA career but went to his grave better remembered for having lost seven of eight playoff showdowns to center Bill Russell and Red Auerbach’s Boston Celtics.
Shaughnessy’s column actually was quite fair to the Manning legacy. But he was right to note the parallels of Manning and Wilt, unable to beat a team from New England with a star player and a Hall of Fame coach.
“I appreciate playing great football teams, and he’s a great leader for that team,” Brady told the media Friday. “This game is about the Broncos and the Patriots.”
When somebody prodded the Patriots quarterback to reflect on the “history” of the matchup, Brady dodged the issue again.
“Truthfully, I’m just not focused on that at this point,” Brady said.
Manning, always friendly with the assembled media, had high praise for Brady when asked last week. But he, too, tried to steer the questions away from the quarterback matchup.
Answer this, though. If Manning had Belichick’s defense all these years, how many Super Bowls would he have gone to?
In Denver, the heartbreak of last season’s double-overtime 38-35 loss to Baltimore remains vivid. But it was the Broncos’ secondary, not Peyton, that gave up the tying, 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with 41 seconds to play.
Still, the easy storylines have been about Manning v. Brady, about Peyton’s “legacy” and even about this being the 37-year-old Manning’s final game. The media has more or less been rubbing Peyton’s nose in it.
That should be enough. The home quarterback usually wins these conference championship games. Manning and his head coach, John Fox, will make sure that that happens again.