Few players will define this generation of professional football more than Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The two greatest quarterbacks of their era have seen their teams go at it every year since 2003, and the only interruption to the Brady-Manning substory in the New England Patriots-Indianapolis Colts rivalry came in 2008, when Brady missed nearly all of that campaign after suffering a knee injury in the first quarter of the season opener.
Now, of course, that's all changed. The recent news of Manning's third neck surgery in the last 19 months has an official diagnosis of 2-3 months away from the game, but most people in and out of the know are speculating that it could be a lost season for the remarkably durable Manning. Some are even wondering if the window for Manning's career is starting to close.
Brady is not one of those people. Early this last week, he kept insisting to Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald that Manning would find a way to get on the field, as he had through every other game of his career since 1998.
When I first talked about this with Brady earlier in the week, he didn't want to believe it was serious. He kept repeating, "He'll play," and agreed that the Pats-Colts game wouldn't be the same without Manning.
Later in the week. after Manning's cervical fusion procedure had been announced, Rapoport's colleague Karen Guregian talked to Brady at his locker. This time, the tone matched the news — far more serious.
"He's such a competitor," Brady told Guregian on Friday. "He's such a tough guy. It sucks not seeing him out there. Hopefully he gets well soon. He's a huge reason for why the NFL, why people follow it so closely. I think we as competitors, whenever you play great teams, you always want to play them with their best players. He's been a great one for a long time."
And that speaks far more to the fraternity of great players than it does any team-versus-team rivalry. The Patriots and Colts are scheduled to meet on Sunday, December 4 this year. Though a Manning-less Colts team would clearly provide far less of a challenge to a Patriots team that will probably be fighting for the AFC East title at that point, you know there's a part of Brady's hyper-competitive nature that would prefer to go up against Manning directly.
It's not clear whether Brady will get his wish, but right now, things don't look very positive.
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