FOXBORO —Circumstances have changed, but Brady vs. Manning is still riveting All it takes is the mere mention of their names. Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. The anticipation builds. The fact that circumstances have changed doesn’t matter. The hype remains the same. On Sunday afternoon, Manning, now No. 18 on your Denver Broncos roster, will lead his team into Gillette Stadium to take on Brady’s Patriots in NFL Week Five’s marquee game. Two first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famers, their quarterbacking matchups have been the stuff of which league lore is made.
En route to his team’s Super Bowl XXXVIII and XXXIX titles, Brady directed the Patriots past Manning’s Colts in the AFC playoffs in Foxboro, first for the conference championship in 2003, then in a 2004 divisional game, two of his wins in a matchup he leads, 8-4.
En route to his team’s Super Bowl XLI title, Manning exacted a measure of revenge against Brady’s Patriots in throwing for 349 yards, rallying his Colts from an 18-point deficit to a 38-34 win in Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC Championship Game.
At one time, you could set your calendars by them: Come November, when the television networks were hungry for football theater that would provide them with large viewing audiences, Brady’s Patriots and Manning’s Colts would meet; big numbers, on the stat sheet and in the Nielsen ratings, were guaranteed.
Their rivalry dates back to Brady’s first NFL start, on Sept. 30, 2001, when the second-year quarterback out of Michigan managed the game with effiiciency, completing 13 passes for 168 yards with no touchdowns but no turnovers in a 44-13 Patriots romp over the Colts at the old Foxboro Stadium. Manning’s stared into the eyes of the Patriots 19 times – he’s 7-12, but won five of the last seven, silencing critics who once insisted Bill Belichick had taken up residence in his head – since Sept. 13, 1998, just his second start as a rookie out of Tennessee when Pete Carroll’s team picked off three of his passes (cornerback Ty Law returned one of them 59 yards for a touchdown) in a 29-6 Colts loss.
Fourteen years later, Manning has gone from the Midwest to a Mile High.
Perhaps, to paraphrase Toby Keith, he isn’t as good as he once was.
Maybe he is feeling the aftereffects of the neck surgeries that sidelined him in 2011 and perhaps he can’t sidestep his birth certificate (he’s 36) – factors, which along with the $28 million bonus he had coming due, prompted the Colts to release him in March, leading him to relocate to Denver.