This week saw the 12th time Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have squared off in the regular season, and while no one can be sure exactly how many more meetings we may get a chance to see, the answer is certainly fewer than the ones that have already happened.  The next such showdown will probably come in this year’s playoffs (it would be the 5th playoff meeting, the previous four having been evenly split).  Has there ever been another rivalry quite like this one?

The only one that comes immediately to mind is Magic vs. Bird, and that one occurred within the overall confines of the Lakers v. Celtics rivalry, which continued on after both Magic and Bird had retired.  Simply stated, Manning vs. Brady is the greatest mano a mano rivalry in the history of team sports and on a par with the great individual rivalries of the past like Ali vs. Frazier, McEnroe v. Borg or Navratilova vs. Evert.

I’m sorry, in this example, which one is supposed to be Tom Brady?

Unlike some rivalries, which feature drastically different skill sets, Manning and Brady both wield similar weapons.  They are among the two smartest quarterbacks ever to play.  Neither of them has what you’d call a cannon arm, nor does either have what is derisively known as a “noodle arm.”  Both have elite throwing accuracy.

Manning has usually had a more select group of weapons at his disposal, but Brady did have his time with Randy Moss and Wes Welker and that season with Gronk and Aaron Hernandez where both of them were healthy and neither of them had been charged with murder.  Brady has typically had a better running game at his disposal, although once upon a time Manning had Edgerrin James.   Brady has usually had the better defense, but not always (and by the time this season is over, probably not this year).  Brady has always had Belichick, which is a great advantage.  Manning had Dungy, but not for long enough.

Belichick giving Brady rabies. I mean, advice.

Through all of the differences and similarities, 8 of the last 13 Super Bowls featured either Manning or Brady.  Since 2004, Pittsburgh and Baltimore were the only teams to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl without Manning or Brady at the helm.  During that same time, 9 different NFC teams with 10 different quarterbacks have made it to the big game.  Only Peyton’s brother Eli has made it to two in that time.

I offer up all those stats just to convey how remarkable and how dominant these two quarterbacks have been, and just how storied their rivalry has been.  The fact that they’ve played each other 12 times in the regular season when they’ve never played in the same division is a testament in and of itself.  Keep in mind that they’ve been in the league together 14 years and each missed one full season with injury.  Now think about how the league makes its schedule every year.  The only way Manning and Brady could meet 12 times in the regular season was for both of them to keep winning their divisions year after year.

So what if this year’s meeting (regular season variety) wasn’t a great game.  Brady v. Manning has transcended even the teams they play for.  Patriots/v. Colts didn’t survive Manning’s departure, even though both teams are still good.  Patriots v. Broncos has absolutely no historical context at all, but it sure was can’t miss TV yesterday.  Like I said, there will be only a few more of these, and when they’re done, we’ll lament that they are over.