Close game or not, it just feels a little strange for one half of this generation’s most enduring and intriguing NFL matchup to be missing tonight, just as much as if it were 30 years ago, and the Lakers were playing the Celtics, and either Bird or Magic wasn’t in the lineup.
But more than that, there’s a touch of poignancy about tonight because while Peyton Manning reportedly wants to play another season beyond this one, there’s no question he’s approaching the end of one of the greatest careers the league has ever seen, and he’s doing it with multiple injuries keeping him from reaching the standards of excellence his talent and devotion to craft sustained for so long.
Meanwhile, he’s also, like the rest of us, watching Tom Brady perform at a level that makes you believe that, as he approaches 40, Brady is still in his prime.
And though these teams might meet again in the playoffs in January, it’s possible that tonight represents a missed chance to see two of the very best ever face off against each other one last time.
And is it also possible to be beyond great, as Manning long has been, to embody professionalism, to carry yourself with grace and good-natured humor, and still not be the best of your generation? Our admiration for both Brady and Manning makes us wish we could call it a take-your-choice, flip-a-coin, dead heat. But the cold truth on this cold night is that while Manning has more MVPs – 5 to 2 – and holds more significant career passing records, Brady’s teams have a much better postseason record, they’ve been to twice as many Super Bowls, and have prevailed 11 to 5 head-to-head.
So, as this epic matchup of historic quarterbacking heavyweights nears the final bell, several rounds have gone to Manning, but the overall decision goes to Brady.