Brady vs. Manning: What could have been

Brady vs. Manning: What could have been
November 21, 2013, 12:15 pm
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Tom Brady has the Patriots sitting pretty as the number two seed in the AFC right now.

(AP Photo)

After 13 years of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning facing off on a football field, there are very few aspects of their history that haven’t been beaten to the ground and buried under 10 feet concrete and sports radio spit. And I guess that’s understandable. How many different ways can you say that the best is the best? At this point, there’s not much left to add. For the most part, all you can do is sit back and appreciate the fact that it's still here, still going strong, with a few more chapters left to write.

Or, you could talk about the actual game that will take place on Sunday afternoon between the Broncos (9-1) and the Patriots (7-3), and I’ll do that tomorrow. But first, since you can’t talk about the present with these guys before at least making note of the past —
 
One rarely mentioned or just long forgotten aspect of the Brady/Manning rivalry is the role played by the Houston Texans. If not for Houston, just their mere existence, the rivalry as we know it today would be unrecognizable. The Texans changed it forever. For better or worse? I’m still not sure.
 
From 1970-2001, the Colts and Patriots were in the same division. The Artist formerly (and currently) known as the AFC East. For that reason, they played each other twice a year, every year, and for other reasons, the games were usually horrible. I have a pretty vivid memory of the Pats/Colts game in Week 15 of the 1994 season. Well, kind of. This was Marshall Faulk’s rookie year, his first ever game at Foxboro, and I remember that I couldn’t wait to watch him play against the Pats (who had won four games in a row). I also remember turning on the TV at one o’clock, only to realize that the game was blacked out. That was the Patriots/Colts rivalry.
 
In 2001, everything changed. For the Pats, literally everything. But under the umbrella of that everything was a newfound rivalry with Indianapolis. In Week 3 of that season, Brady made the first start of his career, coincidentally against Manning’s Colts, and won 44-13. In Week 6, they faced off for the first time under the dome. Another Pats blowout, 38-13.
 
Fast forward to the start of the next season, and Brady and Manning were ready to go. Tom had already established himself as America’s Sweetheart and was well on his way to leaving Tara Reid in his dust, winning two more titles, marrying the most famous supermodel in the world and living in a mansion surrounded by a moat. Peyton was Peyton, well on his way to lighting up the NFL record books, but now, he finally had a team around him. He and the Colts were about embark on a stretch of nine straight 10-win seasons.
 
But they’d do it in the AFC South. That’s because in the winter of 2002, the Houston Texans came to be, and the NFL realigned. They went from three divisions in each conference to four, and as part of that deal, the Colts were sent packing.

It’s strange to think about how things might have played out if expansion hadn’t hit the NFL that season. Can you imagine if Brady and Manning had been in the same division all those years?
 
As it stands today, they’ve only played each other 13 times. Brady’s won nine of 13, while Manning’s thrown for more yards and touchdowns (and interceptions) in those games.
 
I could spend an entire column breaking down the legacies of these two guys, but the last sentence says it all. That’s my column. But in terms of the Brady/Manning rivalry, what if those 10 regular season games were 18? What if every regular season Brady/Manning duel wasn’t just an annual playoff preview, almost an exhibition in its own weird way, but part of a decade long battle for the AFC East title?

Your answer to that might be “Who cares?” and that’s fine, I know there are significant what-ifs surrounding every event that’s ever happened in the history of sports. In the history of life. It’s just crazy. Of all the times for the Pats and Colts to break off a 30-plus year stretch in the same division.
 
It almost feels like we were robbed.

Unless we weren’t. I don’t know. Maybe reality was even better. Just the idea of Brady and Manning starting every season on parallel paths to the postseason. Meeting up once a year (OK, so totally parallel) for a quick check in, just to size each other up, before breaking off for the home stretch. Still, the whole time, watching each other from afar, in anticipation of meeting again with everything on the line.

That was always a lot of fun.

And this time isn’t any different.

 
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