Dan Shaughnessy

The stat that matters is quarterback rating

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / November 21, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — It’s not about Brady vs. Manning. That’s what the insiders keep telling us.

Tom and Peyton don’t defend one another, so this latest Patriots-Colts Game of the Century can’t be about Brady vs. Manning. It’s really about Belichick vs. Manning. It’s about the Revenge of Fourth And 2. It’s about the Colts beating the Patriots five of the last six times they’ve met. It’s about the young Patriots defense. It’s about Bill Polian hating the Patriots the way the Patriots hate the Jets. It’s about perennial conference kingpins deciding who’ll get home field if they meet again when it counts in January.

Knock yourselves out, pigskin purists. You’re like the guys who read Playboy for the great articles. Like the people who graduate from Harvard and tell new friends they went to school “around Boston.’’

There will be no ignoring the obvious in this space. I’m riding sidecar with the dumbed-down story line, the lowest common denominator. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. This game is all about Brady vs. Manning. Football’s 18-12 Overture comes to Gillette.

Which guy is the better quarterback? Who has had the better career? Which one would you take if you had to win one game to save the planet? That’s what this game is about.

We do this in baseball all the time. Remember the build-up when Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens started against one another in the third game of the 1999 ALCS? It was all about dueling Cy Youngs and tale of the tape (Pedro won the tie-breaker when we agreed that, in addition to everything else, he speaks better English than the Rocket). It didn’t matter that Pedro would not bat against Roger. It was a playoff matchup of modern mound immortals (Clemens was routed and Pedro won the duel, 13-1).

The Ted Williams vs. Joe DiMaggio debate had a lot of legs around here, but the Bill Russell-Wilt Chamberlain rivalry remains, by any yardstick, the single greatest individual rivalry in the history of sports. Russell, of course, won the championships, while Chamberlain took the individual honors. Oh, and they actually defended one another from baseline to baseline for the full 48 minutes. Regular season and playoffs. For more than a decade. More than 140 games.

Football can never have anything like Russell-Chamberlain because the quarterbacks don’t actually play against each other, but the “who’s better?’’ argument makes big fireworks here in New England. Football has never seen anything like it. There was Elway vs. Marino and Bradshaw vs. Staubach. But nothing like this. The Patriots and Colts are always in one another’s path (10 meetings in seven seasons) and they are led by two of the top 10 quarterbacks in history.

Around the nation, the debate has been retired. Manning wins. But folks know better here. They know that Brady is the Bill Russell in this race. That’s why there was so much celebration in February when Manning’s late-game interception lost the Super Bowl.

Bill Belichick is a football historian on a par with our late, great Will McDonough. He is better equipped to settle the argument than almost anyone, but his position as Patriot coach prohibits total truth-telling.

“I’ll leave that to you and the experts,’’ Mr. Hood said this past week. “Look, I have a lot of respect for Peyton Manning. I think he’s a tremendous quarterback, but there’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady.’’

Of course he’s going to say that. Like Red Auerbach, Belichick is never going to admit that your best guy is better than his best guy.

The “Tom’s better’’ camp is fortified by Brady’s 3-1 advantage in Super Bowl rings. Manning obviously wins the individual hardware award (he leads Brady, 4-1, in MVP awards) but Brady seemed to be making a case for himself when he was asked about his lone MVP trophy, won in 2007 when the perfect Patriots were stunned in the Super Bowl.

“Coach gave us some stats this summer about MVPs in all the various sports, and it’s been a long time since an MVP’s team has won the Super Bowl,’’ he said. “For one reason or another, it has never really translated into team success. I think, ultimately, that’s what this game is about — when you subscribe to the team goals — and that’s trying to win a Super Bowl.’’

Phil Simms last year said, “Peyton Manning is the greatest player in the history of the National Football League.’’

Maybe. But he’s still a guy with one Super Bowl ring and a 9-9 record in the playoffs. Brady has three rings and a 14-4 postseason record.

“It’s really hard for me just in the middle of the 2010 season to think about too much of the history and years past,’’ Manning said this past week.

That’s fine. It’s not for Manning to say. Not for Brady. Not for Belichick. This is a debate of the people, and it burns anywhere football fans gather. Until one of them retires, Patriots-Colts will always be about Brady-Manning.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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