There are plays that define Super Bowls.
There was Joe Montana to Dwight Clark for “The Catch.” There was Mike Jones gobbling up Kevin Dyson on the 1-yard line for “The Stop.” There was Joe Namath and “The Prediction.” And now, for David Tyree and Eli Manning, there is “The Play.”
Tyree, a former Syracuse University standout, was the most unlikely of heroes in the most improbable of upsets on Sunday night. His circus catch with less than two minutes left allowed Manning to find Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds to go for the 17-14 go-ahead score.
But Eli-to-Burress won’t be as memorable as Eli-to-Tyree.
The Giants faced a third-and-five at their own 44-yard line with one minute and 15 seconds remaining. Immediately, the play was busted as Jarvis Green shot through the line and grabbed a chunk of Manning’s jersey, but Manning spun away, immediately spotted Tyree down the middle of the field and fired away.
Manning’s pass was high; Tyree had Rodney Harrison draped all over him.
None of that mattered.
Tyree used all of his six-foot frame to sky for the ball. Harrison did everything he could to knock it away on the way down, but Tyree, with the ball trapped against his helmet, kept it from slipping out.
From that point, it was only a matter of time before the Giants would score. If Manning could avoid the grasp of the Patriot’s line, and Tyree, a fifth-string receiver, known more for his special teams play, could out leap the Patriots’ secondary, nothing was impossible for these Giants.
Sure enough, four plays later, Manning threw a fade route to Burress, and New England’s bid for a perfect season finally came to an end.
The play was good enough to overshadow Tyree’s other monumental play; a five-yard reception with a little more than 11 minutes to go that gave the Giants a 10-7 lead. It was Tyree’s first touchdown of the season, and up until that point, the biggest catch of his life.
It had to have been a strange feeling for Tyree, who came as an unheralded rookie taken in the sixth round (216 overall) of the 2003 draft out of Syracuse. Until Sunday, Tyree was mostly known for his special teams play, having been to the Pro Bowl for special teams in 2005.
Statistically, 2007 was the worst season of his NFL career. He had been healthy enough to play in just 12 games, and caught just four passes for 35 yards. Personally, it wasn’t much better of a year, as his mother, Thelma, passed away on Dec. 15 of a heart attack.
If anything, Tyree’s season mirrored the Giants. After all, the Giants with the turmoil surrounding head coach Tom Coughlin, and the recent retirement of star tailback Tiki Barber, had stumbled to an 0-2 start, and were on the verge of losing to the Washington Redskins. No one expected the Giants to be a serious contender. Five weeks ago, it was unclear if the Giants would even make the playoffs.
But the Giants did, knocking off the mighty Cowboys and Packers along the way. They were road warriors, winning their final 11 on the road. Their beleaguered quarterback, Eli Manning, stepped out of the shadow of his older brother, Peyton. The Giants, the third largest underdog in Super Bowl history, toppled the 18-0* Patriots.
And just like the Giants, Tyree completed his own turnaround, and made the plays when it counted the most. He will be cemented in history as making one of the all-time clutch plays.
Said Manning: “David Tyree – that’s all you have to say.”
For the Giants and Tyree, there isn’t much else you can say.