David Tyree knows life doesn't always add up. The Giants' reserve wideout entered Super Bowl XLII with more special teams tackles this season (nine) than receptions (four). He also seemed to have more drops than catches in the team's final workout last Friday. "He couldn't catch anything," wideout Amani Toomer would say after the game, chuckling.
Yet with New York trailing by four entering the final quarter, Tyree made like Lynn Swann. His five-yard touchdown catch nearly four minutes into the period jump-started an offense that had scored only a field goal through three quarters, and his miraculous 32-yard reception with just over a minute to play helped set up the 13-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress. "Some things just don't make sense," Tyree said humbly, "and I guess you can put that catch right up there with them."
His circus catch, reminiscent of the acrobatic grab the Steelers' Swann made against the Cowboys in Super Bowl X, is sure to take its place among the Super Bowl's most memorable plays. After quarterback Eli Manning pulled off a great escape from a potential sack and flung a deep pass, Tyree leaped and grabbed the ball. Then, while jostling with strong safety Rodney Harrison, he pinned the ball against his helmet to maintain possession as the two fell to the ground. "I ain't ever seen that guy do that," New York linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "David Tyree put some stickum or something on his hands. That was special."
So was the performance of two other relatively anonymous Giants. While Manning led the comeback and was voted the game's MVP, and Burress had the winning catch, New York never would have rallied without big plays from a pair of rookies: wideout Steve Smith and tight end Kevin Boss.
Smith, who missed 11 games because of a fractured shoulder blade and a pulled hamstring, finished with 50 yards on five receptions, four of them third-down conversions. The most critical came with 45 seconds to play, when on third-and-11 from the New England 25 he caught a pass along the right sideline for 12 yards and smartly got out-of-bounds. The Giants had no timeouts.
Boss had only one catch, but it was huge. On New York's first snap of the fourth quarter he took advantage of a busted coverage and turned a mid-range reception into a 45-yard gain. Five plays later Tyree scored his first touchdown of the season.
"In most Super Bowls there's somebody who comes out of the shadows," said Giants general manager Jerry Reese. "You win championships with guys like David Tyree. He just comes to work, does his job, never complains about anything, plays on special teams. And Steve Smith made big plays in big games at USC, for a big-time program. The scary thing is he's still learning to play."
Tyree, a fifth-year veteran, also remains a work in progress. His forte is as a cover man on special teams, a role that earned him a Pro Bowl nod two years ago. But he also has something to offer as a receiver. Late on Sunday, as the Giants celebrated their victory, he made the most jubilant catch of his career when Toomer hopped into his arms so the two could share a long, emotional hug.
A 12-year veteran who led New York with six catches for 84 yards against New England, Toomer is a mentor and a friend to members of the wideout corps, and his happiness for Tyree transcended the Super Bowl. Toomer knew what a test this season had been for his young teammate, physically, mentally and spiritually. Tyree missed the first two games with a fractured left wrist and sat out another two in mid-December after his mother, Thelma, died of a heart attack. Teammates such as Toomer helped Tyree get through the tough times. As did his faith.
"My faith is what kept me strong," Tyree said. "Ever since my mom went home to be with the Lord, this team has been different. Since the Buffalo game [on Dec. 23], we've been playing with passion, we've been riding the wings of something special."
The Giants are the first NFC team to have won three consecutive playoff games on the road, and the first to win a Super Bowl as a wild card. Tyree, Smith and Boss are among the reasons why.
"Somebody had to step up because the Patriots were double-teaming Plax a lot," Pierce said. "Those young guys did that—Steve Smith with his catch on that last drive, Kevin Boss with his catch, David Tyree with one of those Lynn Swann–John Stallworth type catches. We're champions because of them."