Given the circumstances, it was arguably the single greatest play in sports history.
Four plays later, it was followed by the touchdown that made history (or prevented it, depending on your point of view).
Fast forward just 580 days, and it’s difficult to fathom that the two receivers who respectively made those plays to earn their Super Bowl XLII rings only a full season and a couple of off-seasons ago, find themselves no longer members of the New York Giants, and at the moment, absent from all NFL rosters.
Such is life in the NFL, with the Giants’ release of David Tyree on Saturday, five months after Plaxico Buress was let go by the Giants for much different reasons.
As head-scratching as it may initially seem, it can make sense when you look at the reverse situation. Take the case of last season’s 37-year-old quarterback leading an Arizona Cardinals team that went only 3-7 outside its own division to within to within a Santonio Holmes’ toedrag of another Super Bowl title for that quarterback. If Kurt Warner can go from bagging groceries in a supermarket to the star of a team named the Iowa Barnstormers in the now defunct Arena Football League, to Super Bowl MVP, and record the three highest passing yardage totals in Super Bowl history, why can’t it (unfortunately for the sakes of Tyree and Burress) work the other way, as well?
So yes, change can be fast and frequent in sports, especially in the NFL.
Still, in the case of Tyree and Burress, it’s pretty surprising to see where they are now, looking through the lens of early February, 2008. First, I’ll revise what I said at that top. Tyree’s well-known “helmet catch” on third-and-five from the Giants’ 44 with 1:15 left in Super Bowl XLII, setting up Burress’s game-winning catch with 35 seconds left wasn’t arguably the greatest play in sports history.
It was the greatest play in sports history, period, given several factors: the great degree of difficulty of Tyree’s remarkable grab, as the normally seldom-used New Jersey hometown hero somehow pinned the ball between one hand and his helmet, never allowing the ball to touch the ground, while falling on his back with a pro-bowl caliber defensive back in Rodney Harrison draped all over him –- oh, and all of that after the same play started with Giants’ Super Bowl XKII MVP quarterback Eli Manning did a Houdini act, in almost as equally amazing way, as he incredibly escaped two different holds of his jersey from New England Patriot rushers, before slinging the football downfield to ultimately cling to Tyree’s helmet like a magnet.
And, that just for starters.
Then, consider that without that play, the Giants’ valiant Cinderella run from an 0-2 start (during which they allowed a total of 80 points) — to barely qualifying for the playoffs with a 10-6 record, to winning three straight road games which included a win in the heat of Florida, another over the NFC’s top seed against a hated division rival, and finally clinching a Super Bowl berth in overtime, in snowy Green Bay — might have all merely resulted in the New England Patriots’ expected perfection at 19-0. Instead, with Tyree’s catch, the Giants, as 12-point Super Bowl underdogs to the Patriots, denied the Pats’ perfect season, while finishing off their own fairy-tale ending with one of sports’ greatest upsets, capped by Burress’s own heroics.
Throw in the added ingredients of the Patriots scoring the most points ever in an NFL season that year; their quarterback Tom Brady throwing for the most touchdowns in an NFL season; Brady’s favorite target, Randy Moss, catching the most touchdowns ever in that same NFL season; “19-0” merchandise and books being printed and sold prematurely; Brady laughing and mockingly dismissing Burress’ own pre-Super Bowl prediction of the Giants holding the Patriots to just 17 points in a Giants’ win (when the Giants actually held New England to 14 points); and the fact that Tyree had caught just four passes and no touchdowns all season, prior to Super Bowl XLII, before catching the Giants’ first touchdown earlier in Super Bowl XLII, and then making that now-famous catch.
If you were to send the script to Hollywood, it would have been rejected for not being plausible enough.
That’s exactly why although the NFL is a business and some unexpected off-the-field things can happen, it’s rather stunning to see the fates change so soon for two legendary Giants’ heroes.
Granted, despite Tyree’s Super Bowl accomplishments and a 2005 Pro Bowl selection for his special teams work, he hadn’t had a very productive NFL career (just 54 regular season receptions spanning 6 years as an NFL receiver), and the Giants, although still searching for a clear go-to guy in 2009, have numbers at the wide receiver position, with at least six other different young and all potentially talented receivers seeking to fill that void. Tyree, hampered by injuries, by his own admission, “didn’t have a great camp” this summer, and he simply became the odd man out. Nothing personal, just business, as they say.
Burress, of course, was a drastically different story, having shot the 2008 NFC East champion Giants in the figurative foot and all but killing their hopes of defending their 2007-08 championship when he literally shot himself in the leg last November, leading to his April release by the Giants in advance of Burress spending some upcoming prison time on weapons charges.
Whether it was Tyree’s performance landing him in the Giants’ doghouse or Burress going to the jailhouse, even the best prognosticators in February, 2008 couldn’t have predicted that by the beginning of the 2009 season, neither Tyree or Burress would remain with the franchise that pulled off one of football’s most memorable upsets and sport’s greatest play ever.
Thus, the two will always be linked in both Giants’ and Super Bowl lore, but now, they’re Giants no more.