Wilt-Russell. Marino-Montana. ARod-Jeter.
Most of the "Who's Better?" barstool debates follow the same script. One player (Wilt, Marino, A-Rod) puts up monster stats and sets records, but generally comes up short in the post-season. The other (Russell, Montana, Jeter) puts up good stats, but wins far more championships. *
Team allegiances aside, the guy who thinks Bill Russell's 11 rings and 15 point scoring average trumps Wilt Chamberlain's one ring and 30 point scoring average, is likely a Montana-Jeter booster as well. And vice-versa. (For the record, I tend to support the stats guy. It's not Marino's fault he didn't get Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, and the Niner D as his teammates).
Until 2006, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning followed the script perfectly. Manning put up monster stats but did little in January. Brady won 3 Super Bowls with efficient but not eye-popping statistics.
Then Peyton became Brady. This isn't unusual - great players who don't win are often told they lack that special winning quality - but they often prove their critics wrong (see: Elway, John). It started on November 7, 2005 when the Colts, who had lost 7 straight to the Pats, went into Foxboro and whipped the Pats. They beat them in Foxboro again a year later; and again in January 07, this time in the AFC Championship game, and with one of the greatest comebacks ever. Peyton Manning and the Colts went on to win the Super Bowl, giving his barstool supporters a huge edge in the Manning-Brady debate.
But now something truly unusual is happening...Brady is becoming Peyton. Tom Brady, who never threw more than 28 TDs in a season and had only thrown for 4K yards once, is on a pace to break all of Manning's and Marino's single-season records. The barstool debaters are flummoxed.
This doesn't happen. Jeter doesn't suddenly hit 50 homers one year. Russell doesn't win an NBA scoring title. Montana doesn't throw 40 TD passes.
The only thing that can make this story better is if the Colts beat the Pats in January. Then the role-reversal will be complete. And the barstool boosters will have to reverse their roles, too.
* I've ignored individual sport rivalries like Ali-Frazier, Tiger-Phil, or Borg-McEnroe. In those sports, winning truly is the only thing that matters. As for Mantle-Mays, I think baseball fans were smarter in the 50's, and realized that Mantle won more titles than Mays because of Berra, Whitey et. al. rather than some magical winning superpower.