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Dan Shaughnessy

The torch has been passed

Brady-Manning debate: Colts QB makes another great comeback

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / February 6, 2010

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Peyton Manning is better than Tom Brady.

There. I said it. Call the cops. Have me arrested and sentenced to 10 years of hard time watching “Patriots All Access’’ and listening to programs called “Patriots Monday’’ and “Patriots Friday’’.

Sorry, folks. Sometimes the truth hurts. And the truth is that outside New England, this argument is over. Everywhere else in the continental United States. The proverbial ship has sailed and its name is the SS Peyton.

And yet back in Patriot country, fans soldier on, clinging to the past, unwilling to acknowledge the obvious.

Manning is better.

He wasn’t better in the first half of the decade, when Brady was orchestrating the comebacks and winning three Super Bowls, going a perfect 9-0 in the playoffs. He wasn’t better when Ty Law picked off three of his passes in the 2003 AFC Championship game at the Razor. And Manning couldn’t get his team in the end zone in the 2004 AFC Divisional playoff game at frosty Gillette, remember?

But that was then. This is now. For those of us living in the present, it’s time to give up the Ghost of Tom and face the truth.

The New England company line clings to the fact that Brady has three rings and Manning one. Brady is 14-4 in playoff games, Manning only 9-8. It’s all about championships and therefore, Tom is better.

No. By that yardstick, Sam Jones (10 championship rings) was a better NBA guard then Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan. Yogi Berra was a better catcher than Johnny Bench. Trent Dilfer was a better quarterback than Dan Marino.

Championships mean a ton. Clutch is crucial. We want guys who want the ball at the end of the game.

But the jewelry drawer is not the only measure of greatness. If rings are the only things that count, Joe DiMaggio was infinitely greater than Ted Williams.

Why is it so difficult for Patriots fans to concede on this one? Acknowledging Peyton is better than Tom doesn’t diminish Brady and his achievements. Not being as good as Manning doesn’t make you Jay Fiedler.

The whole thing reminds me a little of the American League shortstop argument at the turn of the millennium. For the longest time, there was debate regarding Nomar vs. Jeter vs. A-Rod. Garciaparra was a guy who could hit .370 and win batting titles and Jeter proved to be the sport’s consummate teammate/winner, but A-Rod was always the best player of the three. We’ve since learned he was a cheater and he’s been moved to third base, but A-Rod’s body of work overwhelms Nomie and Jeter and any neutral party could always see he was the better shortstop.

Manning in 2009-10 has surpassed everyone who’s ever played the quarterback position. He’s a four-time MVP and he will retire with just about every passing record. At the end of this year’s AFC Championship game, Phil Simms told Jim Nantz on CBS, “We are watching the greatest player in the history of the National Football League.’’

Brady was almost that guy. With the genius of Bill Belichick and the old Patriots defense, he could have been that guy. But he lost a lot of his weaponry and then he got hurt and 2009 - though statistically strong - was not a good season for Tom. He lost the fourth-quarter magic. He was terrible in a playoff game. And he’s now 4-4 in his last eight tournament games. Something like Manning a few years ago.

There’s always hope, of course. Patriot fans no doubt hope Manning pitches a stinker tomorrow against the Saints. They want to see him humbled on the big stage.

It’s a lot to ask. When is the last time Manning had a bad game in a big game? He has successfully reinvented the position of quarterback. Teamed with the same offensive coordinator throughout his career, Manning has become an offensive coordinator standing over center before every play. He figures it out. He calls it “controlled chaos.’’ There’s always a hole somewhere. Even without a running game, he cannot be stopped.

Belichick knows. The Hoodie said it himself on that November night at Lucas Oil Stadium when (with a 6-point lead) he went for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 28 with 2:08 left. Hard to believe the Patriots led in that game, 24-7. They led, 31-14, in the fourth quarter.

But they could not stop Manning. Nobody can stop Manning. And if not for dubious decision-making by Colts president Bill Polian, Indianapolis tomorrow would be looking at a shot at 19-0 and Mercury Morris would be very nervous.

All because Manning is the best. Which makes him better than Brady.

And it’s not a sin to say it out loud.

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

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