On Sept. 30, 2001, Tom Brady made his NFL starting debut. Against the Indianapolis Colts, quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. Colin Kaepernick was 13 years old. Russell Wilson was 12.
On Jan. 18, 2004, Brady and Manning met in the playoffs for the first time. By then, Kaepernick was 16 and a freshman at Pitman High School in Turlock, Calif.; Wilson was 15 and a freshman at a prep school in Richmond, Va.
Next Sunday, Wilson and Kaepernick duel as quarterbacks in the NFC Championship Game. And Manning and Brady do the same, in the AFC Championship Game, in a continuation of perhaps the most remarkable individual rivalry in American sport history.
Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell were famous NBA rivals, but their playoff showdowns spanned just the '60s. The Magic Johnson/Larry Bird waltz began with the 1979 NCAA title game but really ended with the 1988 NBA Finals. Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays shared the New York City center field spotlight for only seven years. When Arnold Palmer won his final major, Jack Nicklaus had won just three of his eventual 18.
You want a rivalry to match this one? Maybe only Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who met in 22 majors from 1975 through 1988.
And Brady and Manning still are going strong, 13 seasons after their first meeting, a full decade after their playoff collision. And they remain the gold standard of NFL quarterbacks. OK, so Aaron Rodgers is the best QB on the planet. But Brady and Manning aren't far behind.
A little grayer than in the vintage days. A little more creaky in the bones. Nothing like the rabbit-footed youngsters in the NFC game, who are capable of turning football into a game of tag. But Brady and Manning still can fling the football and lead teams.
The last time they shared a field, back in November, the Patriots won 34-31 in overtime. Brady has won 10 of his 14 duels with Manning over 13 years. They've met three times in the playoffs, all when Manning was a Colt. New England won 24-14 in the 2003 season and 20-3 in 2004, both en route to Super Bowl titles. The Colts won 38-34 in 2006, en route to an Indianapolis Super Bowl win.
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