The football kept slipping through David Tyree's fingers, a potential portent of terrible things to come.
But on the night of Feb. 3, 2008, in Glendale, Ariz., Tyree was anything but shaky.
When the Giants play in Foxboro, Mass., Sunday in their first regular-season meeting with New England since their 17-14 victory over the previously unbeaten Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, attention will shift, however briefly, to Tyree.
And to "The Catch."
"Just watching that ball hang up in the air, the alarms are going off in your head. 'Just hold on to the ball,' " Tyree, now retired from football, told Newsday. "Of course, I didn't understand the magnitude of it until hours later."
Seldom used as a receiver, Tyree, a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection as a special-teams player in 2005, had only 35 yards on four receptions during the 2007 regular season. That made his feat all the more improbable.
"No I cannot [believe he made the catch]," Droughns, a running back for the Giants from 2007-08, said with a laugh. "It was just an amazing effort by him. Going through practice all week, he was dropping balls, dropping passes in the end zone, and then just all of a sudden, here he is making an amazing catch."
Just 1:15 remained on the clock, but the Giants -- down 14-10 to the Patriots -- knew there still was plenty of time. On third-and-5 from the Giants' 44, Tyree took off on a deep post route as Eli Manning scrambled to escape the collapsing pocket. The quarterback fought to remain on his feet, eluding a swarm of defensive linemen grabbing hold of his jersey. Manning finally broke free, retreated toward the 34-yard line and launched a desperation heave that would lead to one of the greatest catches of all time.
The result -- Tyree leaping over safety Rodney Harrison, tightly pressing the ball against his helmet and holding on to it as he fell backward for a 32-yard gain -- was the work of divine intervention, Tyree said.
"I attribute all that to God," said the former Giant, whose wife recently gave birth to their sixth child, Samuel Eli. ("No connection to my former quarterback, though he's a good guy, too," Tyree joked.)
"I've seen a few variations of the helmet catch since,'' Tyree said, "but when I look at it, I don't think that's really something that's humanly possible. I couldn't train, I couldn't work hard to do that. It was like I was kind of the co-star and God was the star in that event."
Four plays later, Plaxico Burress caught the game-winning 13-yard touchdown pass from Manning with 35 seconds left. But for many fans, Tyree's "helmet catch" is the indelible image of that Super Bowl.
The moment, forever captured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, remains on Tyree's basement wall to this day. His jaw-dropping catch is blown up and framed in his self-described "man cave," the same room that contains his framed Super Bowl XLII jersey and the case with his 2008 ESPY award for "Play of the Year."
"I would never try to intentionally separate myself from that moment, but I've never gone back and watched the game," said Tyree, who also caught a 5-yard touchdown pass in the game. "The moment does kind of define a bit of my career . . . and I think that day just embodied a bit of my fight."
Tyree still disputes that luck had anything to do with it. "If I found $20 on the street,'' he said, "that's luck."
These days, Tyree is more preoccupied with the business world than the gridiron. The Wayne, N.J., resident is the director of strategic partnerships for the Tepidus Group, a newly formed financial company based on Staten Island and the senior vice president for the International Children's Support Foundation.
His popularity from "The Catch" is what affords him the platform to reach a wider audience, he said. And he has been outspoken.
"The funny thing about it is, that was nothing new to me," Tyree said of Manning's maneuvering. "Because at Syracuse we always had mobile quarterbacks, so scramble drills were very familiar. You just want to find an open space, and I was able to do that."
Manning isn't exactly sure how many times he's seen replays of it, "but it's always a good play to watch," he said.
Droughns said he's seen the highlights of their entire 2007 season "probably 20 or 25 times." But "The Catch" will live on in Super Bowl lore.
As quickly as Tyree's moment came, however, the spotlight soon faded. He was released in 2009, and after a stint in Baltimore, he signed a one-day contract with the Giants in 2010 before retiring. Tyree, whose autobiography -- "More Than Just A Catch" -- contains a foreword written by Manning, said he still gets recognized in public from time to time. But not as often as one might think.
"If you recognize me," he said, "you gotta be a real, real New York Giants fan."