Brady-Manning XVII: The likely final chapter

Rivalries are a big part of sports. They are special to players, fans and coaches alike, and the best ones span several generations.

As an athlete at Brewer High School, a big part of my athletic career was our rivalry with Bangor. Even though I now live in Bangor, they are and always will be “The School Across The River” to me, and hopefully to many other generations of Witches.

A pair of other longtime rivalries will be renewed on the ice and on the gridiron this weekend, one of which we may see for the final time.

Of course, I’m talking about the longtime courtship of quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who will lead their respective teams into Sunday’s AFC Championship game in Denver. And if that’s not enough, the University of Maine hockey team has a home-and-home series with longtime Hockey East adversary Boston University this weekend.

Sunday’s clash in the Mile High City between the Patriots and Broncos has been billed as “Brady-Manning XVII,” with the Patriots’ quarterback holding an 11-5 edge. However, Manning has won the last two postseason meetings between the pair, both in the AFC Championship game.

The way an aging Manning has been struggling this year, it’s very likely Sunday will be the final time these two quarterbacks will face off. The stakes, as always, are high, with a trip to the Bay Area and Super Bowl 50 on the line.

In spite of the fact that the Broncos beat the Patriots in Week 12, Brady did not have his full arsenal of weapons in that first matchup. Receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola did not play, and Rob Gronkowski left the game in the fourth quarter with a bruised knee. The Patriots looked like the Patriots in taking care of business against Kansas City in the divisional round.

Manning and the Broncos, however, had to scratch and claw to beat a Pittsburgh team that was missing Antonio Brown and D’Angelo Williams. It’s clear that Manning’s arm strength has diminished. He doesn’t have that zip that he once had, and he was benched earlier in the season for Brock Osweiler. It doesn’t appear that Manning and Co. will have the horses to keep up with the Patriots, but whenever these two quarterbacks get together, something dramatic always tends to happen.

Some Patriots fans probably forget Brady’s first win as a starter came against Manning’s Colts in 2001. There was the domination of Indianapolis in the 2004 and 2005 postseasons. Peyton stunning the Patriots by rallying his Colts from a 21-3 deficit in the 2007 AFC Championship. And dare we forget that little 4th-and-2 in 2009?

The Patriots will likely win this game and go for their fifth Lombardi Trophy in the Bay Area, but enjoy one last Brady-Manning clash before Peyton likely takes his Papa John’s and hangs up his cleats.

When you think of the UMaine hockey team’s most hated rivals, the team that immediately comes to mind is the University of New Hampshire, and rightfully so.

But dating back to Shawn Walsh’s building of the program in the 1980’s and into its glory days of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, matchups with Boston University were games Maine fans circled on their calendars every year.

These two Hockey East foes will renew their rivalry at Alfond Arena Friday night before the series shifts to Boston’s Agganis Arena on Saturday.

Every time longtime rivals meet, you can always throw out the records. The Black Bears are 5-13-6 and sit in the Hockey East basement while BU is 11-7-4 and is having another solid campaign, but all that is not going to matter when the puck drops on Friday.

Anytime you’re one of the top teams, you have a target on your back. Just ask No. 1-ranked Quinnipiac, which escaped Alfond Arena with a 3-3 tie on Tuesday in a game Maine could’ve won had coach Red Gendron’s club not taken some unnecessary penalties in the 3rd period. The Bears showed on Tuesday that they can compete with any team in the country, and there’s no doubt the Alfond will be rocking on Friday night.

When I think of Maine-BU clashes, it’s hard not to forget the rivalry and mutual respect that firey coaches Walsh and Jack Parker had over the years. Both of those guys were old-school, no-nonsense coaches who did whatever it took to win, and perhaps Parker’s biggest win over Walsh came in the 1995 national championship game over a Maine team that ran out of gas after a triple-overtime win over Michigan in the semifinals. Walsh and Parker were always battling hard for top recruits. The Terriers provided the “1” in the legendary 42-1-2 1992-93 season by erasing a four-goal deficit at the Alfond. And Michael Mantenuto, who portrayed former BU player and 1980 Olympic gold medalist Jack O’Callahan in the 2004 movie Miracle, had a brief playing career at Maine.

Now, it’s time for a new generation of Black Bears and Terriers to write their own chapters in this rivalry. The two programs met at Boston’s Fenway Park in January 2014, with Maine skating off with a 7-3 victory. A year later, Boston University played for a national championship across town at TD Garden only to fall in dramatic fashion to fellow Hockey East foe Providence. Both games between the teams last year were tight, with BU needing an empty-net goal to seal a 2-0 win in Orono while the Terriers needed overtime to beat the Bears on Commonwealth Avenue.

Maine, as we all know, is building its storied program back up. While Tuesday’s tie against Quinnipiac was disappointing to some, as the Bears had a 3-1 lead in the 3rd period, Gendron’s team did some pretty darn good things that should give them confidence as they head into Hockey East play for the remainder of the season. Any team that’s going through a building phase needs games like this to build confidence for the future, and a home win over a team like BU could jumpstart that even more.

Freshman Brendan Robbins, who has improved throughout the season, finally got his first collegiate goal against Quinnipiac and was chosen as the game’s No. 1 star. 5-on-5, Maine was the better team throughout but could not stay out of the penalty box late, and the Bobcats were able to capitalize. The Black Bears cannot continue to be undisciplined against the Terriers.

We will not see the likes of Walsh, Parker, Garth Snow, Paul Kariya, Mike Eurizone or Chris Drury this weekend, but the Black Bears can add to this historic rivalry and continue to make upswings on their rebuild with a home victory against the Terriers on Friday.

Ryan McLaughlin

About Ryan McLaughlin

BDN sports reporter Ryan McLaughlin grew up in Brewer and is a lifelong fan of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins. In "The Boston Blitz" he'll be sharing his perspective with BDN readers about what's happening on the Boston professional sports scene.