The single most indelible image from Super Bowl XLII that remains seared into memory is "The Catch," that mind-boggling picture of Giants wide receiver David Tyree pinning the football to the side of his helmet after catching Eli Manning's desperate last-minute pass in what turned out to be one of the greatest upsets in sports history.
For Giants coach Tom Coughlin, there is another image that burns just as brightly, even if it doesn't quite capture the awe-inspiring magic of Tyree's catch that preceded Plaxico Burress' winning touchdown reception with 35 seconds left in the game.
"I have this picture in my mind, and it will always be there and I smile every time I think about it," Coughlin said as he flashed back to the Giants' stunning 17-14 win over the Patriots on Feb. 3, 2008. "It's that picture where 72, 92 and 91 are walking away from Tom Brady, who's laying on the ground. Every time I think of that, I think of Osi [Umenyiora], [Michael] Strahan and [Justin] Tuck, and I just smile. It will always be there."
Manning-to-Tyree may have been the signature play from the game, but the picture of the three defensive ends with their backs turned on a fallen Brady was an equally symbolic moment from the Giants' remarkable win over the previously unbeaten Patriots. Coughlin offered a wide grin recalling moment as he paused to reflect on the career of Umenyiora, who officially announced his retirement on Wednesday.
The former defensive end, who spent 10 years in a Giants' uniform and was a key contributor of two Super Bowl championships, bid farewell to the NFL in a remarkable career, one that may not end with Hall of Fame enshrinement but one that proved to be indispensable in a pair of title runs. Umenyiora was part of one of the greatest collective defensive lines you'll ever see in helping the Giants to beat the Patriots twice in the Super Bowl, once after the 2007 season and again after the 2011 season. In both games, he showed the importance of having a great pass rush in dealing with arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
And yes, Umenyiora will agree with his coach about that image from Super Bowl XLII as being the most salient of his career. It captured the essence of what that team was all about and what that game was all about after the Giants had vanquished the heavily favored 18-0 Patriots.
"That was a great moment," Umenyiora said of that picture of him, Strahan and Tuck walking away from a fallen Brady. "There are very few people who know the feeling of nobody giving you a chance to win. I'm quite sure God himself probably said, 'You guys are probably not going to win this game.' But for us to go out there the way we did it and dominate that offense the way we did, it was truly an experience. You never really see defensive line play like that. We controlled the game. We determined the outcome of the game."
That they did, and Umenyiora was a huge part of that upset. Manning and Tyree are the ones remembered most for their miraculous play, with the quarterback spinning out of the grasp of several Patriots defenders and then heaving the ball downfield for Tyree, who leaped over safety Rodney Harrison and somehow kept possession by pressing the ball against his helmet. But it was Umenyiora, as well as Strahan and Tuck, who put the Giants in position to win the game in the first place. Their spectacular and relentless pass rush befuddled Brady and his offense the entire game, limiting the Patriots to just two touchdowns after a regular season in which they set an NFL record with 589 points, an average of 36.8 points per game.
Umenyiora helped to rewrite history, and not just in that game.
"I think the NFL has changed because of that game," he said. "You see more and more teams trying to come up with the whole 'NASCAR' [pass rush] package trying to put more pressure on the quarterback. They see that this is how you affect the game going forward. To have been a part of that was serious."
Umenyiora came to the Giants in 2003 out of Troy University as a raw second-round rookie, a pass rusher with plenty of upside, yet a player badly in need of technique work. Former general manager Ernie Accorsi subscribed to the theory that you always take a gamble with talent, and he won the dice roll on Umenyiora, who had 75 sacks in 10 seasons with the Giants and came close to replicating the career of his mentor, Michael Strahan.
Umenyiora might have had even more outright talent than Strahan, who often told Umenyiora he was a better player. It was Strahan, of course, who wound up in Canton, while injuries and shorter shelf life leave Umenyiora without Hall of Fame credentials. Even so, you cannot write the history of those 2007 and 2011 Giants teams without him, and his contributions will not soon be forgotten.
It was quite a run for a terrific defensive end, who once had a franchise-record six sacks against Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and put together a bunch more sacks worthy of highlight reel status. He never did come up with any sacks against Brady in those two Super Bowls, but he didn't need individual numbers to prove his worth in those games. His contributions in the defensive line's collective brilliance was all that was necessary.
And that image of him walking away from the fallen Brady ... well, enough said.