For Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the clock is ticking. The AFC championship game is guaranteed to be memorable, with the Manning-Brady rivalry in its twilight. Manning is 37 years old. Brady is 36.
Sunday may be the final time we ever see Brady and Manning duel with so much at stake. A trip to the Super Bowl awaits one of these all-time great quarterbacks. Deep disappointment awaits the other.
They have reached the age where they are battling Father Time, knowing their opportunities to win Super Bowls are dwindling. John Elway was the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl at age 38. Certainly, Manning and Brady could win a few more Super Bowls, especially Brady, who looks like could play at an elite level for another four or five years.
However, both Brady and Manning know they are closer to the end than the beginning. Manning in particular was forced to stare his career mortality in the face, after missing the entire 2011 season following neck surgery.
“When you go through a major injury and a significant career change, you truly do go one year at a time and you don’t look past what’s going on now, because you are not sure what’s going to happen,” Manning said Thursday. “Tomorrow is not promised.”
Nor is another Super Bowl promised for Brady, despite his great 13-run as a starting quarterback under coach Bill Belichick, who keeps finding different wants to keep the Patriots contending for championships. Belichick and Brady have won three Lombardi Trophies together, but their last came after the 2004 season. The Patriots’ last two Super Bowl appearances resulted in bitter defeats against the Giants.
Brady was not in the mood to reflect on his rivalry with Manning on Thursday, preferring to focus on Sunday’s game.
“I really don’t think about those things, truthfully,” Brady said. “It’s just not where my mind is. He’s a great player, they’ve got a great team and one of the best offenses in history. I think what that means for us is we better be ready to score some points because that’s what they do best.”
Sunday could be another shootout like the last time Brady and Manning met in November, when the home Patriots edged the Broncos, 34-31, in overtime. A defensive struggle seems unlikely. Not with these two quarterbacks, operating against two defenses that are hardly dominant
Manning is the quarterback who needs this game more for his legacy. He has one Super Bowl ring, compared to three for Brady. Brady is 10-4 against Manning over their careers. The Broncos are the favorites, just like they were last season, when they lost to the Ravens in the divisional round. Another home playoff loss at this stage of Manning’s career would be undeniably brutal.
However, imagine the flipside for Manning. Imagine the Broncos winning Sunday, and Manning winning the Super Bowl next month on his brother’s home field, MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Surely, Manning has thought about that scenario. Surely, Brady has thought about winning a Super Bowl on the Giants’ home field as well.
Both quarterbacks can taste another Super Bowl, but they are standing in each other’s way. So on Sunday, Brady and Manning have another score to settle. It should be special. No matter how old they get, this rivalry will never get old.