Well, it's Manning-Brady XV. The Ugg-booted pretty boy versus the finger-lickin' nerd. Peyton's manic gesticulations versus a surly sideline football jawa, staring at the field from beneath a cowl. Legacy. And all that before getting this season's third iteration of Kaepernick-Wilson. What a drag.
To which the natural response is: Shut up and eat.
The moment a Patriots-Broncos AFC Championship Game became a certainty, my Twitter timeline erupted in lamentations. Many were unprintable, and a lot didn't even bother explaining themselves. If you were there at the time, you knew what, "Oh, ffs..." meant. And while Twitter is not the universe (and my section of it even less so), many of the people groaning routinely receive checks for writing about sports.
The general dismay is at once understandable and a shame, but it's hardly the game's fault. To some extent, it's ours. My friend Michele Catalano got to the root of the problem pretty early the next morning: "It's a week long drinking game! Turn on ESPN and drink every time they say Manning or Brady. Whoever survives the first day wins."
Hiding from ESPN won't spare you, though. Over at Sports Illustrated's Hanson fansite MMQB, writer Peter King temporarily distracted ardent fans of all 51 items of "Ten Things I Think I Think" by talking about Manning-Brady XV under the headline, "Just How It Should Be."
Evidently "what should be" is a list of storylines and needless comparisons. For instance: "How do you pick a favorite game? How would you pick between Spielberg and the Coen Brothers? Between Fenway and Wrigley? Bird and Magic?" Who knows? Since only the last one featured absolute win-lose competitions, you don't actually have to make any of these decisions.
He went on in Bill Simmons-esque tones: "For many, this will be a referendum on Manning's place in the pantheon." Yes, depending on the Levels of Losing, we may have to rethink what floor we put Manning on in our mind-buildings. "When Belichick looks back on his career, whatever happens Sunday in Denver, he'll know that this season defined what he was as a coach." OK, if you say so.
Everyone else got in on the act in some form or another. The Boston Globe-affiliated "Obnoxious Boston Fan Blog" covered every bit of career and season soap operatics with what seems like winking faux-outrage. Fittingly, the article is entitled, "Let the Hype Begin."
The Globe's Christopher L. Gasper was more serious: "Like Pepsi vs. Coke, BMW vs. Mercedes, Apple vs. Google, Brady vs. Manning represents an on-going struggle for supremacy between the two biggest brand names in the genre, the genres being erudite, iconic franchise quarterbacks."
The New York Daily News' Gary Myers saw the New York element in this New England-Colorado contest, depicting Brady's nine-year drought between championships as positively Derek Jeterian. Meanwhile, the Sporting News' Bill Bender put Manning-Brady alongside Ali-Frazier and Magic-Bird -- which sort of suggests that someone undecided on the historic significance of Manning-Brady was just waiting on 40- and 30-year-old boxing and basketball analogies.
Remember, this was day one. An hour before game time Sunday, this will reach a fever pitch of intolerability. We will have re-memorized how far into the draft Brady was picked. Someone will probably call Drew Bledsoe and ruin his day for no reason. Part of that sustained sports journalist Twitter groan doubtless came from the fact that many of the people groaning will be professionally obligated to feed this machine and wring an agonizing quote out of Bledsoe.
As for everyone else, look, nobody especially needs to hear this. Unless you're one of those people who can be nostalgic for moments you are currently experiencing and maintain a certainty that your team will win, high drama sucks on a fan level too. The flip-side of 15 head-to-head matchups and the "legacy" coin, however, offers no really good alternative. For that, you can just look to the San Francisco-Seattle game.
Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson have been starters in the NFL for two seasons, and yet they've already been larded with drama, despite there being so little to refer to. Russell Wilson isn't even his full name anymore; it's THIS REMARKABLE YOUNG MAN RUSSELL WILSON. At the same time, I'm not sure if it's possible for anyone paid to make football words to discuss Colin Kaepernick without citing his sleeve length or tattoos. Aside from Dan Fouts looking vaguely like George Zimmer, founder of the Men's Wearhouse, this has nothing to do with football.
But this is what happens in the absence of 12 years of playoff history. Colin Kaepernick becomes some hardass quasi-thug type because of his sleeves and ink and his Instagram where he posts pictures of lots of shoes and silly hats. Russell Wilson becomes the guy who "when we called him, he was studying film" who showed up to the interview early and in a tie and about whom you can live-tweet a game straight from the world of Ozzie and Harriet and have people think you're posting real commentator quotes. There is not enough room here to discuss the uncomfortable racial vibe attending commentary on Wilson and Kaepernick, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, some Seattle fan has already written them (click for full image):
These add-ons present something, if not terrible or shabby, then at least unnecessary -- and it's an unnecessariness we can recognize as fans instantly. Those groans we make are reasonable, even if we are complicit in either wanting to read stories that amp-up storylines or needing to write them to meet a deadline.
Still, these are good problems to have. No matter how irritating the stories, these are interesting people and fantastic games. Pete Carroll may be a 9/11 truther who looks 45 despite being older than three Tom Coughlins, but he's built an amazing team. So has Jim Harbaugh, who may become the first coach to explode on the sideline from a full-body embolism. Bill Belichick is probably the greatest NFL coach in history. John Fox had a freakin' heart attack this year and once lost to Belichick in a Super Bowl.
When Wilson is on, his play is a joy to watch. What Colin Kaepernick and the Niners did in the second half of last year's Super Bowl was astounding. It took the Niners and Seahawks two years to create an intense intra-division rivalry. Meanwhile, regardless of which one is which, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are probably the greatest and second-greatest quarterbacks in history, and they've been thwarting and elevating each other's destinies for a decade.
All the pregame packages and subjective, criteria-free in-studio arguments about CLUTCH and LEGACY and TIES and TWITTER are like an especially pompous waiter at a fancy restaurant, who insists on making a production out of bringing you what you're there for. Ignore them. It's tempting to hatewatch and complaiiiiiin -- Lord knows, I sometimes can't help it -- but it's not the point. The AFC and NFC Championship games are going to be a fantastic, luxurious meal. Let's shut up and eat.
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