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Tom, Eli give no quarter

Pivot rematch has makings of all-time best in game's history

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Tom Terrific against Opie the Assassin. It should be one of the best quarterback matchups in Super Bowl history -- and probably the greatest quarterback rematch in Super Bowl history.

On Super Sunday Tom Brady and his New England Patriots will face Eli Manning and the New York Giants in what will be only the third QB rematch in the contest's history.

Terry Bradshaw's Pittsburgh Steelers faced Roger Staubach and the Dallas Cowboys twice and won both times. Troy Aikman's Cowboys beat up on Jim Kelly's Buffalo Bills twice as well.

Manning led the Giants to a 17-14 victory over Brady and the Pats in Super Bowl XLII, and now, four years later, they meet again.

Brady is in the conversation as the greatest quarterback of all time and Manning has finally stepped out of the immense shadow of QB brother Peyton, one of the all-time greats.

Brady is the handsome GQ cover boy from Southern California with the supermodel wife. Manning has the aw-shucks facade of country-boy Opie, but his blood runs cold and he's developed into a fourth-quarter killer. Comebacks are his weapon of choice.

There are plenty of game angles; New England's lust for revenge, New England tight end Rob Gronkowski's ankle; the Giants' dominant defensive line and the coaching matchup of Bill Belichick vs. Tom Coughlin, but they all fade to black against the Brady vs. Manning hook.

Manning, who got the football media all sweaty this past pre-season when he said he believed he deserved to be considered one of the top-five quarterbacks in the NFL, has carved out a solid career with the Giants and this season stepped up to a new level.

The MVP of the 2008 Super Bowl, Manning threw a record 15 fourth-quarter TDs this season and has won seven of his last eight post-season starts. Manning set a franchise-record with 4,933 yards passing and had eight 300-yard games in the regular season.

During his career he's now gone into Lambeau Field and beaten the Packers twice in the playoffs and has developed a reputation as one of the game's toughest pivots.

"If you ever needed any evidence, the game against San Francisco was as good as you'll get in terms of a guy that was willing to hang in there and do whatever was necessary to give us a chance," said Giants offensive co-ordinator Kevin Gilbride.

The Giants struggled early and, if not for Manning, wouldn't have been a playoff team let alone here at the Super Bowl.

"We leaned on the passing game. There is no question. He's the trigger guy, so between the receivers, the protection and himself, there is no question we were not running the ball as effectively as we have in the past. So the only way we were going to move it and have a chance to be successful was through the air," said Gilbride. "Fortunately we've gotten better -- with the exception of the San Francisco game -- over the last four or five weeks (at) running the ball. But for the most part, we were not as good as we've been. We have been pretty good, but we were just not as good this year."

Brady's numbers are off the charts and he's appearing in his record-tying fifth Super Bowl, matching John Elway. With a win Sunday he'll join Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl victories and his 16 post-season wins are tied with Montana as the most ever.

Patriots leader and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork says there's Brady and then the rest.

"There is no other guy that I would want leading my team than Tom Brady," he said. "I don't care if it's the worst game of his career or the best game of his career. Each week he always puts it behind him and moves forward. I expect him to do the same thing this week. He says that he had (a poor game) in the AFC Championship, but I don't think that will have any effect on anything he's going to do Sunday," said Wilfork.

Want to know who will win Sunday? Follow the quarterbacks. If Brady can get on track and put up points the Pats will win.

For the Giants, they'll want Manning to use his run game and the size advantage his receivers have over the Patriots defensive backs.

There's lots of noise around the game, but it gets distilled down to Brady vs. Manning.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 3, 2012 C4

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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