It was the most iconic play in Giants history. The most memorable play in Super Bowl history. I was sitting in the press box in Arizona with the perfect perch to watch it all unfold.
But I didn’t see it.
In all my years covering the Giants, I was an eyewitness to just about every significant pass Eli Manning ever threw . . . except that one. Literally the one everyone immediately goes to when they think about Manning.
My job at Super Bowl XLII was to write the initial game story that would appear on Newsday’s website. Arthur Staple, who was covering the Giants at the time, would follow up with the story that appeared in print with quotes and more detail. I was just dashing off the first draft that would be due before the confetti hit the ground.
That story was humming along just fine. The Giants had played a valiant game and their defense had been able to keep the high-powered Patriots offense in check for most of the contest. Then, with 2:42 remaining, cornerback Corey Webster lost his footing just a little bit while trying to cover Randy Moss in the end zone. Tom Brady threw an easy 6-yard touchdown pass and the result just about everyone expected was about to become a reality.
I even typed the first lines of my article: “Almost-perfect games like the one the Giants put forth on Sunday night are usually enough to win Super Bowls. The exception: When they come against perfect teams.”
All that remained was for the Giants’ last drive to end without a touchdown. So as Michael Strahan stormed up and down the sideline predicting the final score and telling teammates that if they believed, it would happen, I was just about ready to send in my copy crowning the 19-0 Patriots as the best team the NFL had ever produced.
It came down to third-and-5 from the Giants' 44-yard line with just over a minute left in the game. Manning dropped back. The pocket collapsed. No one was open. The Patriots had a hold of the quarterback. I saw all of that.
Assuming the play would end in a sack, I lowered my gaze from the field to my computer screen so I could continue writing. That’s how sportswriters do it, especially at the end of tight games. We take those gaps between plays to do our typing.
But this pause wasn’t actually a pause. I never saw Manning roll away from the pressure, nearly fall to the grass and then do exactly what quarterbacks are taught not to do: throw the ball blindly down the middle of the field.
I didn’t see David Tyree standing there, almost as if waiting for a punt to come down from the sky. I didn’t see Rodney Harrison closing in on Tyree, arriving at just about the same moment the football did.
And I didn’t see the football pinned to Tyree’s helmet.
I did hear it, though. I heard the roar of the crowd, which did not make much sense in my brain — that believed the play had ended in a sack.
I quickly looked to the field, saw Manning and the offensive line chugging across the 50, and saw a pile of bodies around the 25-yard line. I saw Steve Smith rooting into that pile. I thought, for a quick moment, that the rookie receiver was the hero of whatever had just happened.
I then turned toward the television hanging from the ceiling in the press box. Luckily, that screen was showing the broadcast of the game . . . with a delay of a few seconds. By the time I focused, Manning was just slipping free of the Patriots defenders and uncorking the pass.
I still wasn’t certain the Giants would win, but I immediately went to work on something that I had not to that point even considered . . . a version of the game story in which they did.
When Manning took a knee on the final play a few minutes later, I filed that story. I can’t say I remember exactly what I wrote, it was such a blur, and my version soon was replaced online by updated stories and, I guess, lost to history.
Who knows, maybe it is floating around somewhere in the ether of internets past. But I do remember I had the sense to call the Tyree catch the greatest play in Super Bowl history.
Even though I hadn’t actually seen it.