A little over 12 years ago, a wide-eyed and weary Tom Brady–the skinny, slow kid from Michigan–made his first career for the New England Patriots. Incumbent starter Drew Bledsoe sheared a blood vessel in his chest and was forced out of action, signaling Brady’s debut in a divisional game, one the Patriots had to have to avoid an 0-3 start that could have sank their season.
Standing on the opposite sideline was Peyton Manning, the talented young star quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts who was taken first overall in the 1998 NFL Draft. Nobody billed it as a matchup of future hall-of-famers. They certainly didn’t call it a rivalry. It was just another Week Three matchup between a pair of teams going opposite directions in the AFC East… that’s right, they both played in the AFC East back then.
However, what unfolded ultimately shaped NFL history, and it certainly set the precedent for what we’re seeing–and will continue to see–leading up to the Week 12 matchup between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos on Sunday night.
Brady’s debut was hardly prodigious. He went 13-for-23 for 168 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Manning, however, was horrendous. Throwing three interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns) as the Pats demolished the Colts 44-13. The win improved New England to 1-2 while dropping the Colts to 2-1.
It also reversed the course of the entire season.
The New England Patriots would ride Tom Brady to an 11-5 record and a Super Bowl championship. Manning would struggle through the worst non-rookie season of his career and his Indianapolis Colts would finish 6-10.
Brady would go on to win the first six meetings of the two quarterbacks storied careers on his way to three Super Bowl championships, contributing to the widely held belief that Manning was incapable of rising to the occasion.
Peyton Manning would finally get his championship in 2006, beating Brady in a shootout during the 2006 AFC Championship game to earn a berth in the big game. However, with the Super Bowl count still sitting at “Brady: 3 Manning: 1″, people still question whether Manning qualifies in the all-time great discussion. (He does. Just stop it.)
However, Brady’s squad has dominated head-to-head, going 9-4 heading into Sunday’s game. That has a lot to do with Brady’s prowess, a little to do with Manning’s failures and maybe mostly to do with Bill Belichick’s ability to craft a flustering gameplan.
Yet, as the two quarterbacks carve out Hall of Fame careers–each making a legitimate claim to finish said careers as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game–the rivalry is one worth mentioning. But how much mentioning?
The NFL network has devoted an entire week to “Brady-Manning rivalry-centric” programming. That’s what they actually called it in a PR release this week.
Meanwhile, ESPN has been hammering away at the storyline to Deadspin-headspin-8.8-on-the-headache-or-earthquake Richter scale and every studio show will be devoting a significant portion of their time to the matchup on Sunday.
I’m not a dunce… well… I’m not ENTIRELY dunce-y. I get that the two greatest quarterbacks of their generation–especially two locked in a more-than-decade long rivalry–deserve a significant portion of the attention. But there is a lot of other important information getting lost within all the “Brady-Manning rivalry-centric” coverage.
There’s Demaryius Thomas emerging as a Johnson/Green-esque type receiver. He’s putting up head-turning numbers despite playing in an offense where he has to share the wealth with Wes Welker, Eric Decker and burgeoning star tight end Julius Thomas (obligatory “no relation” mention, here).
Need further proof that Thomas has reached superstar status. I don’t Google his name to figure out to spell it. That’s Gronkowski-like production in the “learn your name” category.
Then there’s the fact that the two teams sit atop their respective divisions (New England at 7-3 and Denver at 9-1), potentially on another playoff collision course. And, this time, it could truly define the rivalry.
The Broncos are dominant offensively and they’d have to be considered the favorite in the AFC this season, while the Patriots are shockingly quiet at 7-3, yet they appear to be getting healthy at exactly the right time.
The matchup in and of itself is critical to how the rest of the AFC plays out, and it wouldn’t hurt to see more of Ron Jaworski breaking down the Broncos tunnel screen or the Patriots resurgent running game rather than just showing me film of how gosh-darn-good Peyton and Tom (they’re on a first-name basis) are.
The point is, there’s more to this football game than this rivalry. And while I don’t expect anybody to tone it down in regards to their most compelling storyline, I just wish we’d see other storylines get more exposure.
But, it’d be naive to think that in a league that centers around the quarterback the cameras wouldn’t be centered on its two greatest quarterbacks.
Dare I say ever?