The Untold Story of the Rivalry that Transformed the NFL
By Gary Myers
Crown. 272 pp. $26
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Whether it's Laurel and Hardy or Bird and Magic, duos have an amazing potency. And duos, too, have had a way of bringing sports into a cultural dominance far beyond balls, fields, and scores.
So it goes with Tom Brady, longtime quarterback for the New England Patriots, and Peyton Manning, long of the Indianapolis Colts and now of the Denver Broncos. They are easily the two most influential players of the 21st-century National Football League, a league that has transcended sport to become both an industry and a weekend way of life.
Gary Myers has the creds, as a football reporter for more than 30 years, and a columnist for the New York Daily News. His account of these parallel lives is downright Dickensian, kind of A Tale of Two Career Paths. Manning, the golden boy, has his path made plain early in life. Like his father, Archie, before him, a quarterback will he be - a pocket passer unto the House of Manning - especially as he's such a poor runner. Though Manning is highly touted everywhere he goes, and has to deal with that pressure, Brady is the guy no one gives a chance. Manning earns success by fulfilling sometimes insane expectations; Brady earns it by exceeding low expectations.
In the process, the two become friends, co-figureheads who meet for family dinners in the off-season - likely to the horror of Pat Patriot and a goodly chunk of the Midwest. But for all the contrasts - Brady as big-game playoff performer, Manning as regular season gunslinger - commonalities mount. Brady has the seemingly flashy marriage, but you see how his life is built entirely around family, just like Manning's, with his quieter, less showy domesticity.
Myers' prose is rather workmanlike, more reporting than writing, but the peaks and troughs of the two careers provide texture. Brady's time at Michigan, where it looked as though he would constantly be supplanted on the depth chart, is a study in believing in yourself when only you and your core group do. Manning's defeat of the Patriots at last in the 2006 AFC Championship Game reads like an exorcism of demons.
Wherever you fall on the Manning-versus-Brady line, you find yourself knuckling the forehead for each at times, as they also do for each other. As for the argument that these two are culturally important - just consider the big old complicity among readers, warring sports fans, and the dueling definers of a league that has launched one down-the-field-bomb after another into the public consciousness in a way that no league ever has.