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Next big one: Federer vs. Tiger and Peyton

A friend of mine and his family recently concocted an intriguing, three-way wager. The question is who will be the next man in the following trio to win either a Grand Slam  title or a Super Bowl: Roger Federer (one of the four tennis majors), Tiger Woods (one of the four golf majors), or Peyton Manning (Super Bowl).

It is a tough call, or–to put it another way–a seemingly even bet. Each man has arguments in his favor, but all of them come with serious drawbacks.

The case for/against Federer: Federer came the closest in 2014 (yes, even closer than Manning–whose Denver team got clobbered by Seattle at the final hurdle). The Swiss was within one set of winning Wimbledon before going down to Novak Djokovic. At 33 years old, Federer is still all the way up at No. 2 in the world (thanks for the assist, Rafa!) and he has actually improved dramatically since he struggled as a 32-year-old. While there used to be signs of decline, few–if any–exist now. He also has the next chance (the Australian Open final is just hours before the Super Bowl on February 1).

The problem is that even though there are four slams per season, Federer’s most realistic chances come at only two: Wimbledon (because it’s on grass) and the U.S. Open (because it’s on a fast hard court). The Australian Open surface may be too slow and the clay of Roland Garros is far too advantageous to arch-nemesis Rafael Nadal and even to Djokovic. Add a new wave of contenders, such as 2014 U.S. Open finalists Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori, into the mix and Federer’s opportunities are dwindling.

The case for/against Woods: While it seems right now like Federer could play forever, the bottom line is you can’t do that in tennis. Nor would he want to with two sets of twins on his hands. Woods, though, can golf–and golf well–long into his 40s, potentially. If Federer and Manning never win another big one (and the odds would say that neither one will), Woods will essentially have forever to emerge victorious in this particular wager. He is showing no signs of winning anything anytime soon, but a clean bill of health (let’s be cautious and say that happens by the time 2016 rolls around) would put the injury-plagued former world No. 1 back in the equation.

On the downside, Woods does not control his own destiny. Federer and Manning both have chances in less than two months (if they reach the Australian Open final and the Super Bowl, respectively), whereas the Masters is not until April. Additionally, Federer may play six or so majors and Manning may have this season and next before Woods returns to something resembling elite status. It’s also much harder to win a golf tournament than a tennis tournament or Super Bowl. In golf you have to beat everyone. You have to beat Rory McIlroy. And Jordan Spieth. And Rickie Fowler. Federer doesn’t always have to beat Djokovic or Nadal and Manning doesn’t always have to beat Tom Brady or Russell Wilson.

The case for/against Manning: Manning’s prospects looked a lot better a few months ago. Federer suffered a bad loss to Cilic at the U.S. Open and the Patriots started the year in a considerable funk. Federer played great in the fall, however, and Brady and company are suddenly on fire. In turn, the Broncos have cooled off and Manning is not 100 percent healthy (what’s new?). Moreover, if Manning does not get the job done in 2015, Federer and Woods get four chances apiece before his next shot.

But count Manning out at your own peril (no knowledgeable football fan ever would). It’s easier to win a Super Bowl than a golf or tennis major, with or without the Patriots in your own conference. Bums like Rich Beem and Michael Campbell can win golf majors. Not as many tennis players can win big ones, but the list is growing. Few teams have any realistic chance of lifting the Lombardi Trophy, and only the Patriots stand in the Broncos’ way of winning the AFC and playing in Glendale, Ariz. next February.

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