Seriously, at what point do we get the friggin Lions and the useless Cowboys off the usual Thanksgiving Day plate of NFL games and get Patriots v. Colts as an annual Turkey Day game. Is there a more anticipated game each and every year? Does this game not always generate the best TV ratings? Would you rather see (arguably) the two best franchises in the NFL the last ten years, or a Cowboys team that has won one playoff game since Bill Clinton’s first term in office?
November football is defined by the Patriots and Colts, regardless of record. Everyone else is the undercard.
Many are unwilling to admit this, but the New England v. Indianapolis rivalry is the biggest in professional sports. Yankees v. Red Sox, Celtics v. Lakers, Browns v. Steelers, Chiefs v. Raiders, Cubs v. Cardinals, Rangers v. Islanders, Duke v. UNC, and even Indiana v. Purdue are all secondary to a modern rivalry that has helped put pro football on top as THE game for American audiences.
I’m sure fans of those other rivalries will disagree. No offense, but the numbers say Pats v. Colts is THE modern sports rivalry.
It all starts with the quarterbacks. Peyton Manning is the greatest QB of his generation, and possibly the best ever. Even though Tom Brady has two more championship rings, people today do not talk about Brady as being in the same class as Peyton. For one, Peyton has an NFL record four league MVPs. For years, Patriots fans scoffed at such accolades, saying championships made one player better than the other.
This argument goes out the window when you consider that Terry Bradshaw has four rings.
But what has made Brady v. Manning so special is not solely the fan rivalry. I mean, all of us could debate until the end of time the merits of both players. What has been especially enjoyable for someone like me to watch is seeing all the false myths Pats fans held onto in regards to Peyton Manning blow up in their faces. Now, when I talk to most Pats fans about Manning and the Colts, I don’t get the usual ‘He’s a Chokah!’ vomit tossed in my face.
Today, for the most part, Pats fans given Peyton the respect he’s always deserved much the same way we Colts fans have always respected Brady. Of course, going 5-1 against the Patriots over the last five years certainly can go a long way to changing people’s perceptions of a player and a team. It also helps when you see both players, who are fast friends, show mutual respect towards one another.
In many ways, both players represent two sides of the same coin when it comes to how one can ‘make it’ in the NFL. Manning comes from a family with deep roots in the NFL. His father was a great QB in his day (better than Bradshaw). His brother, Eli Manning, is a top tier NFL QB. Like Eli, Peyton was drafted #1 overall, which (along with tens of millions of dollars) comes the burden of carrying an entire franchise on his shoulders. No player has come into the NFL with more expectations than Peyton Manning. Every little mistake has always been scrutinized. Every instance when he is shown to be human demonized.
Thirteen years later, the man has won a ring, four league MVPs, a Super Bowl MVP, and will likely retire holding every meaningful passing record in the books. Defensive coordinators fear his name. Future Hall of Fame coaches like Bill Belichick don’t talk about matching wits with people like Jim Caldwell. They talk about matching wits with Manning.
Contrast this with Tom Brady, who is a living symbol of how vital the NFL draft is after the first round. Prior to Brady, fans and media alike did not give two craps about who their team drafted in later rounds. Today, fans talk about how some kid from such-and-such state college in Nowheresville, CA could be ‘the next Tom Brady.’
Consider this, prior to Tom Brady falling into his lap, Bill Belichick was considered a joke as a head coach. He wasn’t viewed any different in 2001 (before Tom Brady developed into a championship-winning QB) as Eric Mangini of the Browns is today. Now, people talk about ole Bill in the same breath as Lombardi and Landry.
Prior to working with Peyton Manning, former-Colts coach Tony Dungy had a reputation for knowing nothing about offense.
Great QBs have a knack for making the people around them look very, very good.
As we gear up for yet another November meeting between the Patriots and the Colts, I really hope everyone here takes a second to appreciate just how amazing and special this rivalry is. Ten years from now, both Peyton and Tommy will be retired as players. The rivalry will change, and possibly dilute back to what it was before 18 and 12 strapped on helmets and directed no-huddle offenses to glory.
Like all great things, this rivalry will, one day, end. We should all enjoy it, every last bit of it, while it is still here.