By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- It's been a long time since the world has witnessed a vintage Tom Brady-Peyton Manning showdown.
What used to be the highlight of every NFL season is now but a distant memory, with Manning already enshrined in Canton and Brady continuing to win NFL games at an absurd age. Whether it involved the Patriots and Colts or, later, the Patriots and Broncos, the regular showdowns of two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time was good for everybody. It was good for fans, who thirsted for that entertainment. It was good for TV networks, who basked in the glow of those ratings. It was good for the health of the league overall, having two marquee superstars like Tom and Peyton to help push the sport to new heights in terms of popularity and profitability.
It was also good for the quarterbacks -- both the winner and the loser.
Brady talked about this fascinating dynamic in his weekly show with Jim Gray, explaining how rare it is for anyone or any team to go through a season or career without being tested with a loss.
"Great fighters, when you fight great opponents, you lose," Brady said, using a boxing analogy. "Most guys lose. And when you lose, it pulls out greatness in you, because you realize if you're gonna fight another talent of your caliber, then you're gonna win some and you're gonna lose some. If you're fighting people that are less than your caliber, then you should win them all."
Manning was, of course, in Brady's caliber. While Brady and the Patriots won 11 of the 17 meetings with Manning (8-4 with the Indy version of Manning, 3-2 with the Denver Manning), Manning won three head-to-head matchups in AFC Championship Games, helping to level the scales in a big way.
After Manning and the Colts beat the Patriots in the '06 AFC Championship Game, Brady set an NFL record with 50 touchdowns as the Patriots went undefeated the following year.
After Manning and the Broncos beat the Patriots in the '13 AFC title game, the Patriots won their first Super Bowl in a decade the following year. The Broncos won again in '15; the Patriots won it all in '16.
The way Brady described it, those sequences of events weren't coincidental.
"I think about Peyton Manning when you mention those names," Brady said, when asked a question that was centered on Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. "I think of great rivals. I was not going to beat Peyton Manning every time I played him. That wouldn't make for a rivalry. I think it's the same thing with when I look at Patrick Mahomes now and current players, Aaron Rodgers, or guys I played against like a Drew Brees. When you're playing the greats, it's probably going to be closer to 50-50. Maybe it's in your favor 60-40. It's never gonna be 100-nothing. And I think that's ... the more challenging the competition, the more even the field's gonna be."
Technically speaking, it was 65-35 for Brady with Manning. But this was no time for boasting. (Rodgers is 1-3 vs. Brady's teams, while Brees went 5-3 in head-to-head matchups with Brady.)
Brady noted that there are some instances -- like Tiger Woods -- where one athlete can be head and shoulders better than the competition. But most often, that's not the case.
"I do think there's those cases in sports where, yeah, this player is supremely talented and he has all the intangibles to allow him to sustain consistently his level of excellence. And then I think there's excellence when excellence meets excellence," Brady said. "And then that's where the real challenge and competition takes place. And I think that competition makes you better and stronger as you compete."
The commentary from Brady isn't necessarily relevant in the here and now, but whenever Brady -- the greatest winner in football history, the man with the insatiable drive for more and the ability to push his teams to championship levels every year -- opens up about his mentality and mindset with regard to competition, it's always worth taking a listen.
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