There tend to be two types of rivalries in sports. One is characterized by absolute hatred. There is no love lost between these teams and their fans, they absolutely cannot stand each other. Think Celtics-Lakers, Yankees-Red Sox, Michigan-Ohio State.
And then there's the other, more nuanced sort of rivalry. This one is characterized by mutual respect. These athletes might go head to head for their sports' biggest titles, but when it's all said and done, they praise each other vigorously. Think Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal or LeBron James and Kevin Durant,
As NFL rivalries go, the competition between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady certainly belongs in the latter category. Manning and Brady, with a combined four Super Bowl rings and six MVPs between them, are without question the best quarterbacks of the past decade. And throughout their incredible careers, the two have maintained a long-standing and unique friendship.
Brady has called Manning "the best quarterback of all time" while Manning has heaped similar praise on Brady. And more importantly, both men have supported each other following their significant injuries (Brady's ACL tear in 2008, Manning's neck surgery in 2011).
So we know that both men are solid competitors and classy individuals, but who will go down as the better player? Five or six years ago this question seemed like it could go either way, but now the answer is clear. It's Brady.
The history of playoff success, regular-season winning percentage and the stats all favor Brady.
Brady is 16-6 in the postseason with a staggering .774 regular-season winning percentage (tops all-time among quarterbacks). Manning is 9-10 in the playoffs and has won just about two-thirds of the games he has started. And with the Patriots' 31-21 victory over the Broncos on Sunday, Brady has won nine of the 13 times the gunslingers have squared off.
Brady has led the Patriots to five Super Bowls while Manning took the Colts to two. Brady is a more efficient passer, and has arguably worked with less weapons on offense. Whereas Manning had Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, Brady's best receivers over the course of his career have been Troy Brown and Wes Welker. Harrison and Wayne combined for 13 Pro Bowls, Brown and Welker combined for five.
There are several intangibles that also favor Brady. He has played for one coach his entire career, and that partnership with Bill Belichick is perhaps the driving force for his incredible success. And while Brady, like Manning, suffered an injury that forced him to miss the better part of a season, Manning's injury appears to have been more serious.
Brady is the best quarterback of this generation (think post-John Elway), but even he admits that he couldn't have done what he did without Manning.
"[Manning's] really set the stage for quarterback play over my entire career," Brady said.
This, ladies and gentleman, is rivalry at its finest.