There were times during Sunday’s frequent, if not annual, Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady showdown when one had to wonder if this would be their last head-to-head battle.
The time is drawing near when one of the two quarterbacks, if not both, calls it a career and makes the sports rivalry something for historians to digest.
There never will be agreement among fans of the two National Football League superstars over who was best. Those on the East Coast, no doubt, will side with New England’s star quarterback. Across the Midwest and into the Rockies, Manning's star shines brightest.
Brady has a somewhat lopsided edge in face-to-face showdowns against Manning, winning 11 of 16 games. He notched another triumph Sunday in a comfortable, 43-21 win at Foxborough, Mass.
Brady also owns three Super Bowl rings to Manning’s one.
To some that might be enough to settle the issue. But that would be too simple.
Manning has a big edge when it comes to game performance statistics. During his career he’s accumulated more than 67,000 yards passing, compared to 51,000 for the New England star.
One can select from hundreds of statistics to prove whatever point he wishes. There are many ways to compare and contrast the two.
Both have demonstrated that they are great players, but when it comes to superstars, other factors enter the discussion.
Brady didn’t come to the NFL with all the adulation and praise that Manning enjoyed. The former University of Michigan quarterback wasn’t a coveted draft pick, but he fooled the experts and worked his way into the starting lineup, a spot he never gave up except during injury.
Manning was the first pick in the NFL draft and lived to his billing, even though he had to survive a difficult learning curve during his rookie season with the Indianapolis Colts.
From different backgrounds, the dueling quarterbacks also had different personas. Manning’s down home, aw shucks style worked well in the markets where he played. Brady, with a supermodel wife on one arm and blessed with gentlemanly good looks, is a can’t miss figure of his own.
This combination of athletic greatness, charm and personality set both apart and made for a comparison that kept fans coming back for every return engagement. Brady vs. Manning turned into one of the great rivalries in sports.
Their joint appearances drove television ratings for must-see games - whether the Broncos or Patriots are a fan's favorite team or not.
But there are signs now their careers are in the homestretch.
Some in New England began to suggest that Brady’s best days were behind him when the Patriots got off to a less-that-confidence-building 2-2 start. With the loss of several key players through trades and injuries, fear grew around Boston that the Best of Brady belonged to the past.
Manning’s career took a major hit with the knockout loss in last season’s Super Bowl, where the Broncos were hammered by the Seattle Seahawks, 43-8, in a game that was pretty much decided before the halftime show. Even this year, too many of Manning’s passes have wound up as interceptions, and his penchant for displaying his frustrations has flared.
It all only serves to remind football fans that nothing lasts forever. Who’s to say if there will be more classic battles going forward?
There seemed to be a feeling emanating from Gillette Stadium over the weekend that the toe-to-toe meetings of these champions will soon be a memory instead of something to anticipate.