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Venkataraman: Enjoying perhaps the last Brady-Manning duel

Brady-Manning XV. Was there ever any doubt?

In this wild and wacky NFL season, complete with all the hallmarks of true drama, including, but not limited to, stirring comebacks, coaching malfeasance, strange fines, blown calls, concussion controversy and even some occasionally excellent football, the AFC playoffs find themselves perched on the precipice of another entry in the logbook of the quarterback rivalry of our generation.

Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. Round 15, for a chance to reach the Super Bowl in what just might be the swan song of both of their careers.

It is strange to think that both quarterbacks are nearing the end. Manning himself admitted as much last week, when he said that, “The light is at the end of the tunnel for me.” It seems like just yesterday that Manning was a fresh-faced prospect coming out of Tennessee, by and large the most hyped quarterback entering the draft in a good number of years.

And Brady? His rise to greatness remains one of the greatest underdog stories of all time, as the quarterback drafted with the 199th overall pick in the sixth round of the draft has cemented his legacy as one of the greatest ever to lace up a pair of cleats.

Between Brady and Manning, nearly every single-season passing record has been shattered twice over. They have reached seven of the last 12 Super Bowls, winning four in total; Manning will undoubtedly win the MVP this year, his fifth award overall, while Brady has won the award twice and also owns two Super Bowl MVPs. And yet, as Brady turns 37 this coming year and Manning turns 38, though neither shows any sign of decline, it would be foolish to take their continued good health for granted. This might be the climactic final duel between two of the game’s greatest.

There are a ton of confounding factors leading up to this game. Both teams have been ravaged by injuries, with the Broncos having lost linebacker Von Miller, offensive tackle Ryan Clady and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and the Patriots having lost defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo and tight end Rob Gronkowski, all to season-ending injuries.

The Broncos wield one of the greatest offenses the game has ever seen, having scored over 600 points for the season (a feat that has never before been accomplished, even by the vaunted 2007 New England Patriots). Meanwhile, the Patriots offense has assumed a new identity behind a strong offensive line and a frightening three-headed-monster at running back, starring LeGarrette Blount (force trauma), Stevan “Fumbleitis” Ridley, and Shane “please don’t get injured” Vereen.

Both defenses, missing their superstars, have had to adopt a next-man-up philosophy that has left the patchwork defensive products distinctly vulnerable. And the game will be played in mile-high conditions in Denver, where it promises to be colder than a Rocky-Mountain-brewed can of Coors Light.

In short, the factors would seem to suggest that a shootout is in order, making a slow plodding defensive struggle the most likely outcome, since this appears to have been the NFL season where pigs flew and hell froze over.

If there is one thing that I have learned these last few years, it is that winning a Super Bowl might be the most impressive feat in any team sport. Baseball and basketball have the seven-game series, where the statistical likelihood of the “lesser” team dominating the “greater” team over a majority of the series is quite low.

In football? We’ve got 60 minutes to decide a champion, meaning all bets are off. Anything can happen, and that is a fact.

As a Patriots fan, I’m terrified of facing Manning and the Broncos. But I can take solace in the fact that Broncos fans nationwide are terrified of facing Brady and the Pats.

I have no prediction this week, as I’m afraid of jinxing the outcome. Rest assured, I will be watching the game whilst chewing my nails in earnest. May the best quarterback (whoops, I meant team) win.

Viggy Venkataraman also remembers his first words as if they were yesterday, as they occurred around the same time that Manning entered the NFL. To ask what those words were, send him an email at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.