- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- David Tyree, beaming and sweating in equal measure, was still settling into his seat at postgame Podium No. 5 under University of Phoenix Stadium when the first question came his way.
"The catch?" the New York Giants' wide receiver asked, innocently.
The Catch isn't an officially trademarked phrase, but anyone who follows football knows that Joe Montana's touchdown throw to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship Game was the signature play that launched a San Francisco 49ers dynasty.
New York Giants
On Sunday in Super Bowl XLI, the Giants stunned the New England Patriots, 17-14. The pivotal play was a not-to-be-believed 32-yard pass from Eli Manning to Tyree that kept the winning drive alive with 59 seconds remaining.
Call it The Catch II.
"I thought it was falling out," said Patriots' safety Rodney Harrison, who did his best to dislodge the ball. "It was a wacky, crazy play."
Here's how it went down:
The Giants were trailing 14-10 after New England quarterback Tom Brady, seemingly inevitably, drove his team 80 yards in 12 plays for the go-ahead touchdown. Order, in the football universe, had been restored.
What were the odds of Manning, much maligned over four seasons with the Giants, one-upping the two-time Super Bowl MVP?
Manning moved the Giants down the field, picking up two first downs on passes to Amani Toomer and a short run by Brandon Jacobs. But after scrambling for 5 yards and then throwing an incomplete pass, Manning faced a third-and-5 at the Giants' 44-yard-line.
"The play call is Phantom," explained Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. "He [Tyree] runs a post and turns it inside."
The problem was, Tyree never got to run his planned route because Manning was under siege. Never the most mobile quarterback, Manning ducked and spun when the pocket collapsed. Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas actually had a handful of his jersey, but Manning escaped to his right..
"Just trying to avoid the sack," Manning explained. "I felt people grabbing me. You try to get small sometimes and keep the play alive.
"The ball hung up there forever."
Said Tyree: "When you see the guy in trouble, you have to break off your route. I saw he was under duress, and I just pulled up and cut it short."
Harrison reacted to Tyree's move back toward the ball and arrived a split-second after Manning's pass. He clawed and swiped at the ball.
"We've got him sacked," Harrison said. "He throws a Hail Mary. I thought it was incomplete."
"I mean, that ball was challenged," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. "I mean, challenged."
Tyree actually pinned it on his helmet with his right hand and pulled it in before he hit the ground.
"You go up to the highest point," Tyree said.
What's his vertical leap?
"Maybe 30 inches," Tyree shrugged. "I probably have the worst vertical leap on the team."
"That play," said defensive end Michael Strahan, "took a few years off my life."
Giants wide receiver Steve Smith was on the field when it happened.
"That was the biggest play of the game," Smith said. "Man, that was a catch. I was talking smack to Rodney."
Three plays later, on third-and-11 at the Patriots' 25-yard-line, Manning hit Smith with a 12-yard pass for a first down. Then Manning reached Plaxico Burress with the winning score, a 13-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds left. Like Brady, Manning took his team down the field in 12 plays, except his drive was three yards longer.
For Tyree, it was a difficult scenario to imagine. He caught three passes for 43 yards, including the Giants' other touchdown, a 5-yarder early in the fourth quarter.
Tyree, a fifth-year player out of Syracuse, missed the regular-season opener with a fractured wrist and played predominantly on special teams. He finished the regular season with four catches (for zero touchdowns) and added a single catch in the three previous playoff games. He also lost his mother during the season.
"It's been a difficult season," Tyree said. "Most people wouldn't understand.
"My opportunities are too far and few to let that one go. It was supernatural, you know? Some things just don't make sense, and that catch is a good example."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
13hBy Ian O'Connor