By Dave Bruning
Sports are defined by rivalries. Ali vs. Frazier, Borg vs. McEnroe, Boston vs. New York and Ohio St. vs. Michigan come to mind. The opportunity to match greatness at the highest level of sports is rare. Great rivalries raise the level of athletic performance. In turn, athletic moments are created that live in the memories of fans and cities and echo in bar conversations throughout the country.
The NFL could not have written a better Hollywood script for championship weekend. The best individual rivalry and the best team rivalry will be showcased, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady; the San Francisco 49ers vs. the Seattle Seahawks.
Manning and Brady are friendly rivals. The future Hall of Famers share a mutual respect and appreciation for the mental and physical skills required to play the most difficult position in sports. It is difficult to come up with two other players in any sport who have lifted the performance of their team to the levels Manning and Brady have taken their respective teams.
Brady enjoys a 10-4 advantage in their head-to-head matchups. The majority of these games have seen Brady enjoy home field advantage and a more talented football team. The tables will be reversed this Sunday. The backdrop for Manning-Brady 15 is Denver, and the Broncos are the better football team. I expect Manning to lead Denver to the Super Bowl in a high scoring affair that showcases the offensive firepower at the disposal of Manning.
Seattle and San Francisco are not friendly rivals. There is piss and vinegar sprinkled at every level of this bitter rival. It has surpassed Pittsburgh-Baltimore as the NFL’s top rivalry. These division opponents play twice a year normally. NFL fans will be treated to a grudge match this year. Division opponents are like pissed off siblings.
Many rivalries feature qualities that bring out the best in your opponent. Ali’s counter punching paired beautifully with Frazier’s attacking style. By contrast, Seattle and San Francisco are mirror images of each other. They feature successful college coaches from the same conference who have made the jump to the NFL. Both teams feature young quarterbacks savvy beyond their youth. A powerhouse rushing attack and smash mouth defense are understatements when talking about these teams.
Seattle has been football’s best home team for the last two years and is a terribly difficult place for a road team to win. Despite that track record, I like the 49ers to win a brutal slugfest between these football siblings.
The do-or-die format of playoff football is the perfect setting for rivalries to be played out. It doesn’t get any better than the rivalries featured this weekend. Let’s play some football!