By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO - Lies, lies, lies, yeah.
That's what we heard Wednesday.
The Patriots and Colts don't think about each other until they just pop up on the schedule every November like so many mall Santas.
Colts and Patriots is just a game. A big one. But they're all big here in the National Football League.
Manning's a great quarterback that Brady likes to watch and vice versa. But they pose a threat to their team's respective defenses, not each other.
"I don't have to really play against [Manning]," said Brady. "Playing against that Colts defense over the years has always been a great challenge, so I'm always pretty excited about that, just because of the significance of these games. They always seem to mean something. Both teams have proven to be pretty consistent over the years. Peyton is as consistent as there is at the quarterback position. Our defense has a challenge to try to stop them, to try and stop that offense. It's a great offense."
Sayeth Manning: "I feel like it’s pretty well-documented what I think about [Brady] as a player, just what he’s been able to do with his career up there in New England. He has just been outstanding. He’s gotten better every year. I know from talking to our defensive players what kind of challenge it is to get ready to play against his ability to make big-time throws, his ability to look off defenders, to read the defenses. It’s always been a real challenge when you're playing against Tom and his teams because even though you're worried about the defense, you know you're going to have to score points because he's going to be able to put up points for their offense."
What, did these guys go over the script Tuesday night?
Neither guy is going to admit he wants to beat the other. Not now. But look at what we know.
Tom Brady would like, when he's done, to be thought of as the greatest quarterback ever to play. Fact. That GQ spread he did holding a goat? G.O.A.T -- Greatest of all-time.
Manning? Don't you think the fact that Brady had a 16-0 regular season in 2007 but the Colts were prevented from chasing that record last year by GM Bill Polian went sideways in Peyton's craw because - in part - it was another trump card Brady could lay down along with the three rings to Manning's one?
The Colts ushered the Patriots from the playoffs in 2006. The Patriots sent the omnipotent Colts packing in 2003 and 2004.
Greats are propelled by their contemporaries. How many times have Larry Bird and Magic Johnson talked about checking the box scores and progress of each other as their careers progressed?
It's there. And Sunday comes another chapter in the duel, not just for positioning in the AFC playoff race but a referendum on who is the superior quarterback.
By body of work, it's not even a real argument. Brady has three championships and an absurd playoff record. He led the most prolific offense in league history (those 2007 Patriots), set the record for touchdown passes and - were it not for a confluence of defensive lapses in that fateful Super Bowl - he would have directed three end-of-game drives (against the Rams, Panthers and Giants) to win championships.
Manning has a ring from a game in which he played just OK, and threw a pick-six to seal a defeat in his only other Super Bowl appearance.
Manning may be a better thrower. But it's hard to call him a better quarterback. Bill Belichick can't do it.
Asked Wednesday if he had an appreciation for the passion behind the "Manning or Brady" arguments, Belichick said, "Well, they're both really good. So I'll leave that to you - you and the experts."
A pause followed. Then Belichick decided to cast his vote anyway.
"I mean, look, I have a lot of respect for Peyton Manning. I think he's a tremendous quarterback, but there's no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady."
He's said the same thing to me before. And I followed with "current and past?" And he repeated his stance. "There's no quarterback I'd rather have than Tom Brady."
As vociferously as one can defend their position on which player is better, it really is a "chocolate or vanilla" argument. It's a taste thing.
What would the impression of each player be if their draft positions were flipped? Had Brady been the first overall pick and taken a team that had gone 5-13 in its previous 18 games and led them to Super Bowls and record winning streaks, would he have been more universally anointed rather than dismissed as a beneficiary of his defense and the presence of Belichick?
If Manning had been the 199th pick, would the ascension of the Colts have been viewed differently? Or would there be more credit given to Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James and the team-building of Polian?
Manning edged to the precipice of the truth when he said, "I can't speak for Tom, but I think he would certainly see it the same way I do. I think it's kind of hard right in the middle of our careers to think about something like that just because we're right in the middle of it right now . . . It's really hard for me just in the middle of the 2010 season to think about too much of the history and years past, especially this year with all that’s going on with our team."
They are the artists. They produce. We are the ones to judge. Critique. Praise.
But while there is deep mutual respect for each other's work, there must be competition as well. Neither man wants to be simply in the conversation. That's why - even though they are on a different plane than others from this generation - they drive each other.
Even if they won't admit it until they're wearing ugly yellow jackets on a stage in Ohio sometime next decade.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tomecurran