DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots congratulates  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos after the Broncos defeated the Patriots 26 to 16 during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Where does Brady-Manning rank among all time best player sports rivalries?

When you think about the all time greatest players rivalries in the history of sports, Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady has to be in the mix. In basketball there was Bird vs. Magic, in tennis there was Navratilova vs. Evert, in golf Palmer vs. Nicklaus, in soccer Messi vs. Ronaldo, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in Formula One, or in boxing Ali vs. Frazier. But when it comes to football, only Manning vs. Brady stacks up to the titanic matchups in other sports.

Brady holds a suprisingly comfortable 11-5 edge in head to head matchups against Manning, but Manning leads 2-1 in AFC Championship games. You can take a look at a number of other statistically significant factors in this matchup here, from our very own Brad Gagnon. Sunday the two quarterbacks will face off once again for a chance to compete in another Super Bowl. It will be the fourth time they have faced each other in the AFC Championship, and the 17th time overall. The number of times they’ve faced each other with high stakes is unprecedented and the sustained success they’ve both had, combined with unique longevity, is unheard of.

But where exactly does this rivalry fall in history?

Navratilova vs. Evert

attends Singapore Tennis Evening during BNP Paribas WTA Finals at Marina Bay Sands on October 30, 2015 in Singapore.

attends Singapore Tennis Evening during BNP Paribas WTA Finals at Marina Bay Sands on October 30, 2015 in Singapore.

Many will argue that Borg-McEnroe, Agassi-Sampras, Graf-Seles or Nadal-Federer deserve a place at the top in tennis rivalries. While this is subjective, they are all wrong. No rivalry was as contested as Evert and Navratilova in tennis, or perhaps in sports history. Between 1975 and 1987, they each took turns being #1 in the world for all but 23 weeks. At one point, they combined to win 15 consecutive Grand Slam titles. They played each other in 22 Grand Slam finals, with Navratilova winning 14 and Evert winning 8. Navratilova leads the head to head series 43-37. Both were utterly dominant in their prime, and yet they were extremely competitive with each other. While Manning and Brady have enjoyed much success and a competitive rivalry, there’s been other legendary quarterbacks with success during their time period. They have not been consistently at the top like these two players. So this rivalry remains on top.

Bird vs. Magic

DETROIT - APRIL 06:  Larry Bird (R) and Earvin 'Magic' Johnson walk on the court to be honored for the 30th anniversary of their match up in 1979 NCAA Championship Game between Indiana State and Michigan State prior to the Michigan State Spartans playing against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2009 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Ford Field on April 6, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Like Evert and Navratilova – during the prime of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson there were was really only two competing for a place at the top. It was these two, and everybody else. In the finals they played 19 games, with Magic winning 11. One fantastic component of how much these two dominated their sport is that we could watch them compete for a title at the end of an NBA season. We’ve never been able to see this with Manning and Brady. For this reason, the Bird/Magic matchups had higher stakes and that’s why I view it as better. Bird and Magic fed into this rivalry with a personal obsession for it too, something Manning and Brady largely dismiss.

Palmer vs. Nicklaus

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 09:  Honorary Starters Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus of the United States wait on the first tee during the first round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

AUGUSTA, GA – APRIL 09: Honorary Starters Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus of the United States wait on the first tee during the first round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

From 1962 through 1966, these were the only men to wear the green jacket in Augusta. They also dominated their sport like few ever. When people used to talk about Tiger Woods challenging Nicklaus’s record 18 grand slams, Nicklaus’s defenders would point out that Woods never competed against Palmer. Five times Palmer and Nicklaus finished 1-2 at Majors. This rivalry made golf in a lot of ways. I would list it ahead of Manning-Brady.

Messi vs. Ronaldo

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – JANUARY 12: FIFA Ballon d’Or nominees Lionel Messi of Argentina and FC Barcelona (L) and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Real Madrid smile during the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala 2014 at the Kongresshaus on January 12, 2015 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)In the modern sports era, no two players are more dominant than Messi and Ronaldo. They’ve combined for 8 Ballon d’Ors. Messi leads the head to head 14-8-7 with 17 goals to Ronaldo’s 16. They’ve faced 5 times in Champions League, with Messi leading 2-2-1. I do think this is a very comparable rivalry to Manning and Brady. Manning and Brady have combined for 7 MVPs, though, and so I give a slight edge here to the futbol players.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the modern sports era, no two players are more dominant than Messi and Ronaldo. They’ve combined for 8 Ballon d’Ors. Messi leads the head to head 14-8-7 with 17 goals to Ronaldo’s 16. They’ve faced 5 times in Champions League, with Messi leading 2-2-1. I do think this is a very comparable rivalry to Manning and Brady. Manning and Brady have combined for 7 MVPs, though, and so I give a slight edge here to the futbol players.

 

Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost

13 Nov 1988:  McLaren Honda driver Alain Prost of France celebrates his victory with team-mate Ayrton Senna of Brazil who finished second after the Australian Formula One Grand Prix held in Adelaide, Australia.  Mandatory Credit: Tony Feder /Allsport

13 Nov 1988: McLaren Honda driver Alain Prost of France celebrates his victory with team-mate Ayrton Senna of Brazil who finished second after the Australian Formula One Grand Prix held in Adelaide, Australia. Mandatory Credit: Tony Feder /Allsport

These two were dominant in Formula One. You can read about the rivalry here. Sadly this battle was cut short due to the tragic untimely death of Senna and we never knew to what lengths their face-offs would go. With the rivalry lasting about 6 years, I think you’d have to list Manning and Brady as more significantly on longevity alone.

Ali vs. Frazier

Ali Frazier Manila

Every remembers the “Thrilla in Manila”, perhaps the most famous boxing match of all time. Ali won by “TKO” in the 14th round. The two fought three times, with Ali winning twice. The lack of sample size here diminishes the importance of the rivalry compared to some, though.

 

Analyzing some of these fantastic rivalries above, you can make a very strong case for Manning-Brady belonging in the top 5 player rivalries of all time. It would be difficult to say it’s top 3, though. Regardless, Sunday will be another notch in the historical belt between the two players. A must watch competition for any sports fan.

 

 

Andrew Juge

About Andrew Juge

I write about football.

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