Denver, CO – Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning took time this week to reflect on his long-running rivalry with Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich, according to a source close to the team. Sunday’s NFC Championship matchup between the Broncos and Patriots will mark the seventh meeting between the two star players.
“It’s going to be an emotional game for sure,” said Manning. “Rob’s been a big part of their success over the past decade and while I’d like to tell you that this is a team game and that we’re preparing to play against a very good team, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I want to beat Rob. I think it’s just natural.”
Ninkovich, a linebacker who was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 2006 , bounced around the league some before landing on the Patriots roster in 2009, where he has been a stalwart mainstay ever since. His chess matches against future hall of famer Manning have become an almost annual fixture for fans and a ratings bonanza for the league.
“You have to account for Rob on the field at all times,” said Manning as he thought wistfully about the possible closing of the storied rivalry. “You have to try and push out the memory of those big games, like in 2014, and just go out there and perform,” Manning added, referencing their game on November 2, 2014, when Ninkovich famously picked him off in the 2nd quarter of a rout, effectively sealing home field advantage in the playoffs for the Patriots on their way to a Super Bowl win.
Ninkovich also anticipated the next, a possibly final, chapter in the rivalry. “You get up for these games – in meetings, watching film, in practice. There’s a little something extra you put into preparing for games like this. In a way, it feels a little strange to be indelibly tied for the rest of history to a player from a different team.”
When asked what he thought about always being compared to Ninkovich after he retired, Manning said, “I can’t worry about that right now, I just have to go out and try to get the win on Sunday. If the pundits want to compare me and Rob after I retire, that’s on them.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was asked to comment what he thought about the rivalry between Ninkovich and Manning and was quoted to say, “Who’s the hell’s Manning?”