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.
Such playoff frequency is not all that unusual. This fourth playoff meeting isn't even an NFL record. Kenny Stabler and Terry Bradshaw dueled in five straight postseasons during those grand old Oakland-Pittsburgh years in the '70s.
But the Snake and Bradshaw weren't even the focal points of their own teams.
Brady is the Patriots. Manning is the Broncos and was the Colts. We've been debating for almost a decade about who's better. Brady won those three quick Super Bowls to grab the advantage, then Manning won one and made everyone reassess.
And here they are, in January 2014, still on top of their game. One of them is going to the Super Bowl and just might win it.
They are American sporting treasures. Brady is in his 13th season of running Bill Belichick's team. Manning is in his 16th season (can you believe it?) as an NFL star.
They don't proclaim themselves Superman when they reach the end zone. They don't jaw with opponents. They don't even answer the critics who ask Brady why he hasn't won a Super Bowl in nine years and ask Manning why little brother Eli is ahead 2-1 in titles.
In the twilight of their careers, they still just go about their business of quarterbacking on autumn Sundays, and we the consumer of sport are rewarded with a rivalry for the aged and the ages.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.