Although the tributes have been pouring in for a number of days, Peyton Manning’s official retirement announcement took place at the Broncos’ facility at 11am local time. The impact that Manning has had on the game, both as an Indianapolis Colt and as a Denver Bronco cannot be understated. He is a lock as a first ballot Hall of Famer and is possibly the greatest mind to ever play at the quarterback position. Manning’s two Super Bowl rings and one Super Bowl MVP go alongside five League MVP awards, seven First Team All Pro nods and a whole host of records, including being the only quarterback to win 200 career games in both the regular season and the playoffs. Much will be made of Manning’s numbers, achievements and awards, but the legend of Manning is intertwined intimately with that of the player many feel to be the greatest ever. Tom Brady. This is, as much as anything, a eulogy to a rivalry that compares to any in sports – Ronaldo vs. Messi, Schumacher vs. Hill, Ali vs. Frazier. To tell the story of football in the last 16 years is to tell the story of Manning vs. Brady. It wasn’t meant to be this way. Tom Brady by all right should not have been a household name. The 1998 Draft was supposed to be setting up the battle of the ages between Manning and Ryan Leaf, about whom the less said is the better. It isn’t so much the numbers that matter as the moments – Brady’s first start came against Manning’s Colts, a game the Patriots won 13 – 44. And yet still nobody knew that would be the first of 17 meetings which would end with an 18 – 20 win for Manning’s Broncos in the 2015 AFC Championship game. Some single out Manning leading the Colts back from a 15 point half time deficit in the 2006 AFC Championship game to ultimately go on to beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI – Manning’s only other Super Bowl triumph – as the greatest game in the rivalry. It’s hard to argue. Head to head, of the first seven meetings up to and including that game, Brady’s Patriots had won five to Manning and the Colts’ two. Since then there has been parity, with the last ten games being split evenly. The narrative has been compelling – Manning, The Sheriff, with his wide brimmed white hat, versus Brady, the symbol of a dominant empire, duelling for dominance over a conference with only brief interruptions. Brady missed all but a few snaps of the 2008 season with an ACL tear, Manning the entire 2011 season prompting his release and move to the mountains. Each and every time the two met, even during the regular season, it felt as though there was something more at stake. Two men who are fierce friends off the field, and fiercer competitors on it, with each vying for dominance over the other. Even Archie Manning and Tom Brady Sr. text every Monday after the game to check on how each other’s son did the day before, although certainly until the start of the 2015 season they had never met in person. Peyton retiring now leaves one less game for every Patriots fan to circle on the schedule – It was a rare year that they didn’t play at least once – and the NFL becomes the poorer for it. Since the 2001 season, the only other quarterbacks to have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl are Rich Gannon, Ben Roethlisberger, and Joe Flacco. Much like the other great sporting rivalries, those who have witnessed it are privileged to have seen two of the greatest ever define a generation.
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