By Matt Jenkins
---- — Throughout the history of professional athletics, fans have dreamed of fantasy matchups pitting the greatest of all time in head-to-head matchups — as if the debates that rage on could somehow put a definitive stamp on who, ultimately, is the best ever in one particular sport.
Currently, it’s hard to escape the Michael Jordan-LeBron James argument. Jordan, he of six rings, 10 scoring titles and an evolving game that saw him mature from a high-flying freak of nature to a cerebral assassin, never had a true match on the court. But he’s somehow found a hypothetical match in King James, a physical freak of nature in his own right who has only scratched the surface of his potential.
How awesome would it be to see a 30-year-old Jordan come back to battle James one-on-one today?
What about hockey? What die-hard hockey fan wouldn’t love to see players like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemeiux, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe play head-to-head in their primes? In fact, let’s empty the ice and put each one of them through a series of skill competitions and end this debate right now.
In baseball, we could tackle two topics at the same time. We could line up Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan and see how they handle Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. Best pitcher and best hitter could be decided in the same afternoon.
Of course, until science intervenes and discovers a way to bring people back to their youth, these arguments are pointless, not to mention nonsensical because it’s hard to agree on the definition of greatness.
Yet, here we sit just two days before the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots meet in the AFC Championship game, again wondering which quarterback is better: the Broncos’ Peyton Manning or the Patriots’ Tom Brady.
It seems in this situation, the Brady-Manning debate is unnecessary.
The two quarterbacks, who are undoubtedly on everyone’s short list of greatest of all time, have already met 14 times during their careers. Brady owns 10 wins against his rival.
Now, perhaps for the first time in history, Herm Edwards must be inserted into a ‘greatest of all time’ story:
“You play to win the game.”
That was Edwards’ famous postgame rant when he was coaching the New York Jets many years ago and, ultimately, what else really matters?
Brady is a winner, plain and simple. Fans from outside New England no doubt think Brady is a whiny QB who gets preferential treatment from officials. While that feeling sometimes seems valid when Brady is caught barking at referees after the whistle, overall the sentiment just reeks of jealousy.
Even if you’re a Brady fan, you have to admit it would be easy to dislike a guy with a 30 million dollar smile, a supermodel wife and three Super Bowl rings when you’re quarterback is, say, Andy Dalton.
Throughout his career Brady has turned great receivers (Randy Moss) into record-breakers, good receivers (Wes Welker) into great ones, and bad receivers (Reche Caldwell) into legitimate starters.
While trying to hit your mind’s eject button as Caldwell’s dropped pass in the 2007 AFC title game in replays (yup, that’s one of Manning’s few wins over Brady), consider this: Caldwell played six years in the NFL and 61 of his 152 career receptions came when a guy named Brady was throwing him the ball. He also piled up 760 of his 1,851 career receiving yards and caught four of his 11 career touchdowns that year.
Brady is whatever his team needs him to be. If it takes 50-plus passes a game, then Brady can do it. If the game plan calls for him to just manage the game, he’ll gladly do that, too.
Manning doesn’t just manage the game; one of his biggest strengths is his ability to call the game. When under center — or more specifically, while roaming around in the backfield calling out signals — Manning is in complete control.
He’ll go down as one of the great gunslingers of all time with his quick trigger and dead-eye accuracy. He has all the stats to back it up, both this year and for his career. His 55 touchdown passes this season broke Brady’s single-season record, and he’ll surpass 65,000 career yards in this game.
Still, you should get the feeling he’s the one chasing Brady.
It’s all about winning, and in that category they’re not on equal ground.
Matt Jenkins is a staff writer at The Salem News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and 978-338-2648, and follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.