"The Things We Forget" is a chronicle of 2008 in sports. It is presented in 11 parts. This is Part 3, on Lance Armstrong and David Tyree. At the bottom of this piece, you can navigate to the other 10 parts.
Lance Armstrong stood on a stage in a hotel ballroom in Manhattan and clapped Bill Clinton on the back like an old friend. In front of them were more than 50 heads of state, countless diplomats in crisp white shirts, Bono and Al Gore. But at that moment, the attention was on only these two different-seeming men and their efforts to change the world.
Armstrong told a story. "I'll never forget visiting the White House after my first Tour de France victory, in 1999," he said. "We were told we had seven minutes with the president, the president's busy. We're in the Rose Garden, and I stopped and said, 'Wow, look at that magnolia tree over there.' That seven-minute visit turned into a 45-minute visit because of this magnolia tree. I happen to be a real fan of magnolias, and it turns out, so was the president."
The pair have more in common than trees. They are legacy chasers. They care about the balance of judgment. Clinton, in his efforts to raise Africa out of abject poverty, seems driven by a desire to erase the sour, scandal-haunted note on which he finished his presidency. Somewhere in the mountains of France, Armstrong picked up the same itch. He doesn't want his story to be about something as ordinary as winning races. He wants to be remembered as the man who beat cancer in himself and then in everyone else.
He had just announced that he would be cycling competitively again, but it was clear that his return to the road had less to do with yellow jerseys than yellow bracelets. "It's the reason we're here today," he said of his LiveStrong Global Awareness campaign. "We have the medicine, we have the procedures, we have the technology to save lives on all of these continents. If we're not doing that, if we're not applying the medicine we have to the people who need it the most, then we are failing morally and ethically. That must change."
Success in that endeavor will mean Armstrong will live forever. Failure will mean he won the Tour de France seven times in a row.
Over the river in New Jersey, David Tyree sat at his locker, after another practice he was too injured to make. Unlike Armstrong's, the final—maybe only—chapter of Tyree's legacy has likely been written. "A lot of people tell me, 'You'll always be remembered for that catch.' It's the only thing they want to talk about after they find out who I am."
With his New York Giants trailing the still-perfect New England Patriots late in the Super Bowl's fourth quarter, Tyree caught a 32-yard desperation heave from Eli Manning, partly with his hands, mostly with the side of his helmet. Four plays later, Manning found Plaxico Burress in the end zone, and the Giants had started 2008 on an improbable, incredible note, with a 17-14 win over destiny.
Standing nearby, Manning said that now that the work to win another trophy had begun, he tried not to think about the first one much. "An athlete's memory has to be short. You have to train your mind to forget. That comes with experience.
The more confidence you have, the shorter your memory gets. You always have to be thinking about the next play." Tyree, however, couldn't get past his last. That was partly because "the Catch" was the last time he had touched a meaningful football. But it was also because people wouldn't let him forget. His locker was filled with fan mail, photographs, magazine covers, children's drawings—in each, he was making that catch. "That play was so much bigger than me," he said.
Tyree is no different than Clinton or Armstrong; he isn't satisfied with his legacy either. He wants to carve out something larger in the time he has left. "Don't get me wrong, it was a glorious moment," he said from his locker. "Seeing it 15 or 20 years from now, watching it with my children, I'll remember it as something special. But I won't allow myself to be bottled up by it. People might remember me for that catch, but that catch isn't me. I'm not going to let one moment dictate the type of person I am or the kind of impact I can have on another person or society as a whole. There are a lot of things I have left in me."
In November, Giants coach Tom Coughlin announced that Tyree had been placed on injured reserve. He would not play a single down all season.
Other Parts of "The Things We Forget"
Part 1: The Closing of Yankee Stadium
Part 2: Michael Phelps
Part 4: Annika Sorenstam
Part 5: Josh Hamilton
Part 6: Venus and Serena Williams
Part 7: The Boston Celtics
Part 8: Rocco Mediate and Tiger Woods
Part 9: Sidney Crosby
Part 10: Thurman Munson's old locker at Yankee Stadium
Part 11: The 2008 World Series
Bonus: See the author's receipts from putting together this story.