With everyone predicting victories for both the Patriots and Packers this weekend, the stage appears set for what many believe to be the most significant quarterback matchup in Super Bowl history: Tom Brady vs. Brett Favre. Certainly, sportscasters have reason to gush. Brady and Favre are at the helms of the best and second best passing attacks in the league, respectively, promising a shootout that could rival any this season. Furthermore, the storyline is so good it sells itself: One man is primed to achieve the kind of legendary status reserved for a chosen pantheon, while the other fights back with an energy that nobody believed he had left; the face of the old guard drawing on every last ounce of his essence to hold off the face of the new guard for one more year. It’s epic, and, if it happens, will certainly be worthy of the kind of hyperbole it will receive.
I wonder, though, if anyone has really considered the other side of this weekend’s coin with regards to its prelude for a Super Bowl matchup. With everyone piling on the anticipation for the historical significance of Brady vs. Favre, nobody seems to realize that it really doesn’t mean that much for the league moving forward. Favre will be remembered as a legend win or lose, and Brady is going to be remembered as the greatest quarterback of his generation. The game’s image is immense, but its stakes are minimal. Meanwhile, if both of these icons of their position happen to lose this weekend, we may miss out on the game that could act as the perfect centerpiece for the league’s history. Instead, we’ll watch Manning vs. Rivers: The game that could mean everything for the league’s future.
For the NFL to remain the premier sports league in America, it is imperative that its franchise quarterbacks of the future mature into stars of the caliber of the current star quarterbacks. Up to this point, only Ben Roethlisberger, having become the Super Bowl winning “Big Ben,” has done so. David Garrard is emerging, but is too old to comfortably fit into the rising crop, and it becomes more and more evident each year that Carson Palmer will become little more than an addition to an “Underrated/Overrated” debate as a result of his incredible statistics and utter inability to lead his team to similar achievement. For Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, however, the future remains wonderfully undecided. As it stands, both have proven themselves this season to be capable of leading their teams to success, with each helming teams with double digit win totals that have made it deep into the playoffs, overcoming adversity along the way. Each has had their heroic moments, with Rivers’s coming in his beautiful performance against the Colts last week, and Eli’s coming, oddly enough, in a near victory against this season’s juggernaut. Yet each is also escaping a past that still weighs them down in their ascent to real stardom: Both have been called mere game managers, both have shown wild inconsistent streaks, and both have had to endure more than their fair share of ire from their respective fan bases. A face off in the Super Bowl would signal their arrival as franchise quarterbacks, and fill out the currently sparse pantheon of the future’s iconic signal callers.
What’s more, a Manning-Rivers Super Bowl game sets up a rivalry that unfolds organically. Fans will remember the draft day trade that sent each of these top five picks to their current teams. At the time, Manning was the brash youth, refusing to play for a squad he felt was beneath him, and Rivers the quiet apprentice waiting patiently to be given the reins of the team. Manning went on to be battered and bruised by the baptism by fire of playing in New York, while Rivers seemed to step seamlessly into his place in the Chargers’ offensive machine. This year, the roles seemed to reverse themselves. Manning showed signs of calm maturity, gracefully handling the restless Giants fans and eventually winning them over, while Rivers incurred his first taste of the wrath of his own fan base and seemed to lash out, exposing an insecurity that had been bubbling beneath the surface ever since he was traded away by New York, the very team he would be facing in a Giants-Chargers Super Bowl.
The matchup plays out as dramatically as Brady-Favre ever could. Having finally matured to be comfortable in his own skin, does Eli take hold of the greatness that has been his birthright, or does Rivers finally stake his claim as being more than just another piece of the San Diego system? Does one settle into becoming an icon, or is it something that must be violently seized? Having finally arrived at their respective identities, a game between these two quarterbacks would answer questions that fans may never even have realized needed to be asked. Furthermore, the stakes of this game would be much more significant for either of these men, as each would be fighting not only for present glory, but also for a secure place in the league’s future. If Brady-Favre is the showdown, then we should all be grateful; it’s a historic game. I just hope in their disappointment over not getting what they planned for, the football community doesn’t miss out on something that could be just as good, if not better