Tom-Brady-vs.-Peyton-Manning talk, with the fourth post-season matchup between the two NFL superstars on tap in Sunday’s AFC Championship game and a Super Bowl appearance at stake, is burning up the airwaves from Foxborough to Denver and beyond. And while Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson must wait until April for the chance to go head-to-head with a major championship on the line, the buzz surrounding what Boston sports radio optimistically trumpets as the "March to the Meadowlands" may have a familiar hum for golf fans.
"I think [Sunday’s much-hyped heavyweight bout between the two all-universe quarterbacks] transcends the NFL. This is something everyone wants to see,’’ CBS’ Jim Nantz, who will call the game with Phil Simms, told the Boston Globe’s Chad Finn on Thursday. "This is tantamount to Ali-Frazier one more time. This is Palmer-Nicklaus. This is Bird-Magic.
"I’m not trying to create some sort of synthetic drama here, but this is what it is," said Nantz, the voice of The Masters who has witnessed his share of histrionics at Augusta over the years. "This is as big as it gets."
Nicklaus-Palmer, with Jack’s 18 majors stacked up against Arnie’s seven, is certainly a fitting comparison when it comes to Brady’s three Super Bowl rings to Manning’s one.
"When I first started playing against Arnold, my goal was to beat him and become the best I could be," Nicklaus said in a video promoting November’s showdown between Brady and Manning. "If that meant dethroning 'The King,' then that was what I had to do."
Fast forward a couple of generations and Tiger v. Phil makes for an amusing pre-kickoff analogy as well.
Though only 17 months separate the two superstars, Manning, at 37, and after four neck surgeries and with a post-season physical looming to determine his on-field future, could be facing his last grab at the brass ring. He certainly did not play like someone on his last legs. Through 16 games, he put up MVP-caliber stats by breaking the NFL single-season record for touchdown passes and passing yards, which was somewhat reminiscent of a 43-year-old Mickelson rebounding from the heartbreak of his record sixth runner-up finish at a U.S. Open to win his first Open Championship.
Brady, like Woods, is playing on a bad knee and it’s no secret that the clock is ticking as each tries to make that next big score (a fourth Lombardi Trophy for Tom Terrific and a 15th major title for Tiger). Should they fail in their quests this year, however, each has cemented his legacy as the greatest of his generation, if not of all time.
Because the numbers -- as Woods and Brady’s HC Bill Belichick would say -- are what what they are. Tiger, with 14 majors to Phil’s five, holds an advantage in the elite contests that Lefty will never overcome, while Tom has a chance to go 6-2 in Super Bowl starts and 4-1 in wins over Peyton if the balls bounce the Patriots' way for just two more Sundays.
Peyton Manning ranks 2nd all-time in postseason completions, attempts and pass yards... behind Tom Brady.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 17, 2014
A glimpse beyond the statistics is entertaining as well. Though Woods and Mickelson have yet to take each other on in a major finale, and Brady and Manning will never actually go helmet-to-helmet, Phil and Peyton have earned reputations from their ball-washers as glad-handing family men of the people. Haters, on the other hand, view Tom and Tiger as imperious, model-marrying millionaires with dweeby celebratory handshakes.
Hell, Brady can't even get a high-five from his own teammates.
Manning may be ridiculed mercilessly throughout New England for his penchant for post-season choke jobs, but he, like Mickelson -- a fan fave wherever he goes, tipping his cap and autographing every item shoved his way -- is by far the more popular of the two signal callers outside the six-state region.
Much as a recent Repucom poll found Mickelson far more beloved than Woods, post-sex scandal, 62 percent of Americans questioned in the third annual Public Policy Polling NFL survey viewed Manning favorably, while only 39 percent liked Brady. His colleagues aren’t that wild about Gisele's Ugg-pitching hubby, either.
"Brady may have more rings than any of his fellow QBs, but he also inspires more animosity," according to a PPP statement. "18% say he's their least favorite QB to 12% for Tebow, 11% for RG3, 7% for Eli Manning, 5% for Peyton and [Drew] Brees, 4% for [Cam] Newton, and 3% for [Aaron] Rodgers and [Russell] Wilson."
Despite Joe Public's strongly held opinions about which future Hall-of-Famer he would rather have under center with time running out, Brady and Manning, unlike their golfing compatriots, seem actually to like each other. They’ve even teamed up on the golf course to beat "Ed and Sam" at Pebble Beach.
Tom Brady trolls Peyton Manning! pic.twitter.com/T6ZpEXcInG— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) January 17, 2014
Hard to imagine Tiger and Phil getting together for a little friendly pigskin flinging.
"We’ve played against each other a lot and we’ve both played a lot of football," Manning told reporters on Thursday. "I enjoy really trying to get to know a number of quarterbacks. Any chance to get to spend some time with them, maybe in the offseason at a banquet or at a golf tournament — talking a little ball — I’ve always enjoyed that part of it. And I’ve certainly enjoyed doing that with Tom during the times we’ve had a chance to do that."
Unfortunately for one of the two legendary play barkers competing in what could be the final Brady-Manning Bowl, off-season training for the duo's next match at Pebble starts Monday -- just as Tiger and Phil prepare to kick off their 2014 PGA Tour seasons at Torrey Pines.