The Denver Broncos beat the New England Patriots on Sunday, advancing to Super Bowl XLVIII.

If an objective person thought it would turn out any other way, it was merely a tribute to the complementary greatness of the coach and quarterback on the other side of the field. The better team held serve at home and won, convincingly, prevent defense notwithstanding.

Remember when sports, especially football, were that simple?

We could celebrate greatness without being obsessed with who was the greatest. The dynasties of this dynamic game — 1960s Packers, 1970s Steelers, 1980s ’Niners, early 1990s Cowboys — were respected separately and honored on their own merits. We were astute enough to recognize that times changed and that athletes evolved. To sit around spraying beer-scented spittle while engaging in pointless, often mindless comparisons would have been self-policed, rightly, as sacrilege.

No longer.

Same goes for the signal-callers we have deemed immortal. Twenty years ago we didn’t have the gnawing need for a Neighborhood of Make Believe in which there was a Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks.

Limiting it to four would have been absurd. We grew up in the Golden Age and we knew it. Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, John Elway and Steve Young all oozed greatness and had the jewelry to show for it. And Dan Marino, Dan Fouts and Jim Kelly didn’t require bling to validate their transcendence. We were respectful and educated enough about the game to understand that it was a 45-man, 11-at-a-time endeavor, and that the guy under center controlled only so much.

Which leads us to this insipid Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady argument.

Oh, it isn’t going to die now. No, sir. No matter who prevailed Sunday, it was going to occupy most of the two-week vacuum between Mile High and Meadowlands.

Blame ESPN, WEEI, NFL Network, Twitter, Facebook, Deadspin, Papa John’s, Victoria’s Secret and Wes Welker in one combination or another if you wish, but the argument will go on long after Manning and Brady are bronzed for our grandchildren’s enjoyment. It will extend far beyond the day when the two of them are confined to recliners with their neck and shoulder, respectively, caked in arthritis cream.

In some perverse way, I suppose, it is a tribute to both of them, because nobody else on an active roster is in their jet stream. Ben Roethlisberger’s off-the-field shenanigans and reputation that he can’t win without all the right pieces in place follow him. Aaron Rodgers is brittle and has lost too many home games in January. Drew Brees struggles outside domed stadiums. Tony Romo won’t be part of the conversation until games are shortened to 58 minutes and seasons to 12 weeks.

So the two of them are indelibly linked in their own world. In an unfortunate product of the all-or-nothing world in which we live, vocal backers of each generally do so at the exclusion of the other.

Only in football. Only in 2014. Seriously, if I like filet mignon, am I required to hate lobster? If you dig classic rock, does all rap automatically have to stink out loud? Yet Brady Blindness and Manning Mania prevail.

The past two weeks have been nothing but dizzying, out-of-context comparisons of statistics. Card-carrying members of Team Brady and Team Manning never fail to uncover data that “prove” their man is a king and the other is a court jester.

Brady has three rings. Sure, but none in the past nine years.

Manning is only 5-10 lifetime against Brady. Great, but he’s won their last two head-to-head meetings in the AFC Championship.

Little brother Eli has held up more Lombardi Trophies than Peyton. I really shouldn’t even try to refute that logic, because I have this rule about not arguing with fools. If that truly is your be-all, end-all benchmark of greatness, then you think Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer, Mark Rypien, Doug Williams and Jeff Hostetler are greater QBs than Marino and Fouts.

Thank you for playing. We have lovely parting gifts backstage.

It’s true that Brady has posted an otherworldly winning percentage with JV receivers, subtracting Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski. Well, the same could be said of Manning, not counting Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Do what you will with the overvalued Welker as he applies to each.

Both have been at their best when a serviceable running game and a ball-hawking defense were doing their jobs. No quarterback is an island.

Manning travels to Joizey on the heels of the greatest statistical season by a quarterback in the history of the solar system. He accomplished it all three years on the good side of 40, two years separated from surgery that cost him a season in his prime and would have ended anyone else’s career.

He needs a win to “validate his legacy,” whatever the hell that means, about as much as Kanye and Kim’s kid needs a college fund.

Brady has directed his team to six AFC championship games and 11 division titles in addition to the three Super Bowl titles in his first four years as a starter. He needed the opposite result Sunday to bolster his resume as much as a Bill Belichick press conference needs a laugh track.

The only needy people are the thousands who appear mired ankle-deep in this silly tastes-great, less-filling debate.

They need to get a grip and enjoy the show. It’s nearing the end, and there is nothing on the horizon quite like it.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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