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Dan Shaughnessy

A night to choose sides

Comparisons endless for incomparable QBs

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / November 15, 2009

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INDIANAPOLIS - You are a Tom Brady Guy or you are a Peyton Manning Guy. There is nothing in between.

The Patriots play the Colts tonight in the marquee matchup of the NFL season. It’s the league’s annual sweeps spectacular; 33.8 million watched the 2007 game, which happens to be the only one of the last five won by the Patriots. Billions of words have been spilled regarding the history and relative strengths and weaknesses of the Pats and Ponies.

But any way you carve it, this game comes down to Brady and Manning. They are the top two players in America’s most popular sport. They are at the peaks of their respective careers. And they fight for the same prize every year.

Last Tuesday, Brady was reminded that he and Manning are often compared to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

“Which one am I?’’ asked Tom. “Bird or Magic?’’

On the field, Brady is Bird and Manning is Magic.

Like Bird, Brady is a great teammate. He makes those around him better. He is selfless. He is a worker. His game gets better when the conditions get worse. There was doubt about his ability to succeed in the pro game. He’s clutch. He wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game. Numbers in blowouts don’t interest him that much. Just as Bird sat down when he had a chance to record a quadruple-double in Utah, Brady took a seat against Tennessee when he could have shattered some single-game records.

Manning, like Magic, came to the pros as the top pick in the country, anointed as the best before he put on a uniform. Under Manning, the Colts’ high-flying offense has been the NBA’s version of the old Laker Showtime. Manning’s skills are obvious and daz zling. Like Magic, he’s a little bit of a front-runner. He’s likes playing in perfect conditions. It brings out the best in him.

Brady and Manning are friends, just as Larry and Magic became friends. But there is fire in each to be better than the other. Peyton, for all of his records, has only one Super Bowl ring. Brady has three. Oh, and the single-season record for touchdown passes? Manning looked like he retired the trophy when he threw for 49 in 2004. In 2007, Brady came back with 50.

Brady-Manning and Bird-Magic are not the only matchups we’ve debated through the years. Boston sports is ever-blessed.

Remember Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain? Wilt had the eye-popping numbers, but Russell had the rings.

Peyton Manning is Wilt Chamberlain. Tom Brady is Bill Russell. End of story.

The ancient Ted Williams-Joe DiMaggio discussion also applies. Unfortunately, Boston got the wrong guy in the battle of baseball gods.

Brady is Joe DiMaggio. Grace under pressure. Brady wins championships. He never does anything awkward. Chicks dig him and guys want to be him. He’s ever-cool on the ballfield. He’s not afraid to marry someone more famous than himself. Joe D had Marilyn. Tom has Gisele. If football had anything resembling a hitting streak, Tom Brady would hit in 56 consecutive games.

Manning is Ted Williams. Ted was the greatest hitter who ever lived. Peyton may be the greatest passer who ever lived. His skills are obvious. He is an offensive machine, spectacular to watch. But winning championships is another story. Ted never won any. Manning has one. Manning is jealous of Tom’s rings just as Ted envied Joe D getting to the World Series every year.

Drunken owners of the Red Sox and Yankees almost swapped legends one night in New York. It would have settled a lot of arguments. Williams would have hit a lot more home runs playing at Yankee Stadium and Joe D could have padded his numbers at Fenway. Wonder if the fates of the teams would have been different.

It certainly seems safe to say that Manning would have won more than one Super Bowl if he’d spent the last 10 years in Foxborough under Bill Belichick.

Outside the sports arena, Brady vs. Manning works well as a Ginger-Mary Ann Game:

Brady is Mary Ann, Manning is Ginger.

Brady is Newman, Manning is Redford.

Brady is Harvard, Manning is Yale.

Brady is Avis, Manning is Hertz.

Brady is John, Manning is Paul.

Brady is real grass, Manning is turf.

Brady is dogs, Manning is cats.

Brady is the quarterback of the New England Patriots. Manning is the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. They play against one another just about this time every year - usually again in January.

And you have to choose. You are either a Brady Guy or a Manning Guy.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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