It has only been an hour, but it’s safe to say one play will stand the test of time and go down as one of the most memorable in Super Bowl history.
With a minute remaining on the clock, trailing by four and facing a third-and-five on his own 44, Eli Manning dropped back to pass. The pocket collapsed quickly, and Manning spun out of the grasp of two would-be tacklers, his shirt-tail trailing as he lofted a deep ball down the middle of the field.
Thirty-two yards beyond the line of scrimmage, David Tyree, who had five passes thrown in his direction during the entire regular season, leaped for a ball that appeared overthrown. Using his facemask to balance the ball, he withstood Rodney Harrison’s decent effort to jar the ball loose and brought the catch in. Just like they taught him, no doubt, freshman year at Syracuse as he struggled to get playing time for the Orange nearly ten years ago.
If Manning had been sacked, the game was almost certainly over with a fourth-and-15. If Tyree hadn’t somehow caught up to the ball, the Giants were facing a fourth-and-6, or a game-ending interception as Harrison was in position to make the play.
But Manning and Tyree connected, and three plays later, veteran Plaxico Burress showed why it helps immeasurably when leaders play through difficult injuries, selling a fake perfectly to gain separation for an easy game-winning 13-yard touchdown catch.
The Manning/Tyree helmet play will be the signature of Super Bowl XLII. The victory, against a spread of 12 1/2 points (which means a team has only about a 10% chance of winning) required a great game plan and execution.
Tom Coughlin knew he needed to pressure Tom Brady. And his talented front four couldn’t do it all alone. He sent plenty of blitzes, and Brady rarely felt comfortable in the pocket. Brady had a good game under the circumstances. He completed 29-of-48 for 266 yards. Five of his incompletions were the direct result of heavy pressure and he was sacked an additional five times. One pass was tipped incomplete as well.
That’s a phenomenal achievement against a record-setting quarterback. Especially when you consider the Patriots did not have a single play of more than 19 yards.
Until the final drive, which earned him the game’s MVP award, Manning did struggle a bit. He threw an interception, though it probably should have been a catch. He was 14-for-25 for 174 yards as that drive started, seemingly headed for an “okay job, but not enough” pat on the back. He never faced the same kind of intense pressure that Brady faced.
But one memorable play, and his name belongs on the Pete Rozelle trophy right after his brother’s name from last season’s Super Bowl. That’s how the game works.