If I asked you to name the biggest rivalries in Boston sports, youd rattle off a list faster than Antonio Cromartie can name his kids: Lakers-Celtics. Red Sox-Yankees. Bruins-Canadiens. Patriots-Jets. Patriots-Ravens. Patriots-Giants. Patriots-Steelers. Celtics-Heat. Bruins-Canucks. Red Sox-Rays. There are as many rivalries in Boston sports as there are guys named Shamus in Southie.
But what if I asked you for Bostons best individual rivalries?
Think along the lines of Magic-Bird. Or more realistically, something like Nomar-Jeter, Moss-Revis or Youkilis-Joba Chamberlain; a rivalry that doesnt necessarily have to transcend the team dynamic, but still stands on its own.
Take a second and see what you can come up with. I hope you have better luck than I did.
I guess Pierce-Kobe or Pierce-LeBron is up for discussion, but I wouldnt qualify either. First, because Kobes always been too consumed by Shaq and his imaginary rivalry with Michael Jordan to ever care too much about Pierce. And second, because recent history has taken LeBron into another stratosphere. Kevin Garnetts had plenty of rivals, but no one that's on his level. Bill Belichicks had phases with Rex Ryan and Eric Mangini but both have faded with time. Chris Paul and Rondo had the makings of a great rivalry, but they just dont see each other enough. Theres Doc Rivers-Bill Kennedy, Bobby V-Joe Maddon or even Tom Brady-Terrell Suggs but those are too one-sided, petty andor hilarious to register. Over the past few years, the Red Sox have had plenty of great rivalries within their own clubhouse, but nothing that really extends to another team. And while guys like Alex Burrows, Matt Cooke and P.K. Subban have earned the title of Boston Sports Villain none of them has that one individual Bruins rival unless you want to count Cooke and Marc Savard, but that was sadly over as soon as it started.
Who knows, maybe its a product of free agency, or Bostons slow fall from Title Town back to reality, but the fact remains that significant individual rivalries are a rare commodity on our local sports scene.
But thankfully, the individual rivalry is not dead at least not as long as two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history are still going at in the AFC.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. An individual rivalry for the ages. Its the best kind of rivalry, too. Its not based on pettiness, cheap shots or momentary bragging rights. It's a rivalry fueled by history, by permanent legacy, by how each quarterback will be remembered among the greatest quarterbacks of all time. It's a respectful rivalry, an aspect that most likely stems from the fact that these two are never in direct competition. Brady's never hit Manning. Manning's never intercepted Brady. In 11 years, they've never been on the field at the same time. While one's at work, the other's on the bench. Watching, marveling, laser focused on how to be better.
Who is better?
I guess that depends on your definition of better, but really, there's no doubt that Brady has the upper hand.
While Manning still leads in many important statistical categories he's third all-time in completions, while Brady ranks 10th; he's third in passing yards, while Brady ranks 11th; he's third with 407 touchdowns, exactly 100 more than Brady (who ranks fifth) these days, that statistical discrepancy is just as much a matter of time as it is skill. Manning's started 49 more games than Brady, which is more than three extra seasons. And with Peyton's career clock likely to run out before Tom's, it's fair to assume that those gaps will be significantly narrowed by the time both men are done. And even then, there are a number places where Brady already has the edge. He's third all-time in passer rating, while Manning ranks sixth. Brady's also thrown 85 fewer interceptions.
Then, there's winning.
Brady has a .773 career winning percentage, while Peyton's at .667.
Brady's 16-6 all-time in the playoffs (2-4 in his last six), while Manning's 9-10.
Brady's played in five Super Bowls, and won three. Manning only been there once (and he won).
This obviously comes from a slightly biased place, but I don't care if Tony Dungy's making the list, in any breakdown of the best all-time quarterbacks, Tom Brady needs to be ahead of Peyton Manning . . .
Still, that doesn't weaken the hype leading up to Sunday's game.
You know that member of your family who drives you nuts? Right. I know. Which one? Maybe it's an uncle, an aunt, a cousin or all of the above . . . but we all have them. That family member who makes every gathering andor holiday absolute hell. That family member who annoys you by breathing.
Well, last Thanksgiving that member of my family canceled at the last minute. He supposedly wasn't feeling well, but the excuse didn't matter. The rest of us were ecstatic. It was a dream. And we all went on to have one of our most fun and easygoing turkey days in years.
But honestly, something was missing. The whole night was so peaceful and laid back, but for that reason, it didn't feel like Thanksgiving. And in a strange and irritating way, that kind of sucked. It just wasn't the same.
And last season, that's what it felt like in New England with Peyton Manning out of the mix. Initially, it was great to see the Colts take a hit. One of the most difficult games on the Patriots schedule had just become a cupcake. Tom Brady's biggest rival had just been taken down at the knees (or the neck). Everybody wins!
But when that game finally took place, and Curtis Painter awkwardly jogged out onto to the field, everyone missed Manning. Regardless of all the fear and frustration he'd laid on New England in the past, it wasn't the same without him. You wished that he was out there.
On Sunday, after nearly two years away, Manning finally returns to Gillette, and lucky for New England, Tom Brady will be waiting, ready to defend his legacy and bring us all another chapter of Boston's undisputed best individual rivalry.
Even if it might also be the only individual rivalry.