NFL conference weekend features the sort of matchup we love — the King Kong vs. Godzilla of quarterbacks in this football era.
The New England Patriots face the Denver Broncos Sunday, but the attraction is Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, one more time.
We look at it as a showdown between the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, even though they never actually face each other on the field. Manning doesn't square off against Brady.
It's like when two great pitchers are matched up. Save for the obligatory at-bat by National League pitchers, while Stephen Strasburg vs. Clayton Kershaw might be the marquee battle, they don't go against each other.
But we pit them against each other, and it's difficult to believe that Manning doesn't see it as a game between him and Brady. He may be throwing at Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib on Sunday, but he will be measured now and forever against Brady.
We don't argue about Joe Montana vs. Lawrence Taylor. We do, though, passionately debate Montana vs. Dan Marino, or John Elway.
In those comparisons, Manning doesn't fare well against his New England peer.
Brady is 10-4 against Manning in his career, 2-1 in the playoffs. Manning has a losing career playoff record of 10-11, with one Super Bowl and one loss.
Brady has a postseason mark of 18-7 record. He's been to five Super Bowls, and won three of them, twice being the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player.
Brady wins the playoff comparison.
Statistically, over the course of their careers, it is Manning who has been Brady's better.
In 16 seasons, Manning has 491 career touchdown passes, completing 5,532 passes in 8.452 attempts for 64,964 yards, and a 97.2 quarterback rating. He has won four NFL Most Valuable Player honors.
Brady, over 14 seasons, has 359 touchdown passes, completing 4,178 passes in 6,586 attempts for 49,149 yards and a 93.7 quarterback rating. He has half the number of Manning's MVP awards, with two.
Brady carries the reputation of a winner. Manning has the burden of greatness coming up short in championship moments.
It's reminiscent of another star player rivalry that involved a great New England athlete.
Wilt Chamberlain played 15 season in the NBA, scoring 31,419 points and pulling down 23,924 rebounds. He won seven scoring titles and led the league in rebounding 11 times. He averaged 30.1 points per game and 22.9 rebounds per fame, the only player in league history to average those numbers. For all that, Chamberlain won four MVP awards.
But he lost five NBA finals, having two league championships on his resume.
Chamberlain lost four of those NBA finals to his rival, Boston Celtics center Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA championships.
Russell's statistics don't measure up to Chamberlain's. He scored 14,522 points over his 13-year career, averaging 15.1 points per game. He did pull down 21,260 rebounds, close to Chamberlain's numbers, averaging 22.5 points per game.
But the perception is that Russell was the winner, and Chamberlain, even with two NBA championships, had the burden of greatness coming up short in championship moments.
It's an eternal debate — the greatest player vs. the greatest champion.
Like now with Brady, and in the 1960s, with Russell, it's a debate that included another New England icon decades before.
Who was greater – Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams?
Williams played for 19 seasons and hit 521 home runs, with 1,839 RBI and a .344 average. He was a 19-time All Star and won two Most Valuable Player awards. DiMaggio played for 13 seasons, hitting 361 home runs, with 1,537 RBI and a .325 average, and was named to the All-Star team every year he played, winning three MVP honors.
But Williams played in just one World Series with the Red Sox and lost. DiMaggio played in 10 World Series for the Yankees, winning nine of them.
Williams is in the debate among the greatest players of all time. But he — like Manning, like Chamberlain — had the burden of greatness coming up short in championship moments.
It's often not a fair argument. The greatness of these athletes is often dependent on their supporting cast. Sometimes, it's just a fluke, a bad, bounce, that separates a championship resume.
On Sunday, Peyton Manning could use a bounce in his favor to relieve the burden of greatness coming up short in championship moments.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of "The Sports Fix,"noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com
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