It was going to be Zak DeOssie’s big moment. Long-snappers don’t get many of them, but he was ready for it.
The Giants trailed the Patriots 17-15 late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis and were putting together a drive. Eli Manning threw one of the best passes of his career, Mario Manningham made an astounding catch while keeping his feet in bounds and the Giants were getting close to scoring range.
That’s when DeOssie and punter Steve Weatherford, who also was the holder in the kicking game, started to get ready for what was sure to be an attempt at a winning field goal as time trickled down.
“Steve and I always warm up for field-goal snaps near the side where we’re about to kick,” DeOssie said. “We are so excited-slash-nervous because we know our number is going to be called for this pending field goal to get the go-ahead points late in the Super Bowl. Nine times out of 10, you just bring your field-goal team out on the field, and we’re going nuts over there. We’re snapping. Steve’s screaming. I’m screaming. We’re screaming at each other. ‘We’re gonna do this! We’re gonna win!’
“We’re getting each other jacked up and there are more people now crowding the sideline now because it’s toward the end of the game and we’re fighting for position to get our practice snaps in and getting more jacked up for a field goal than I ever have in my entire life. And then, all of a sudden . . . ”
Ahmad Bradshaw went up the middle on a 6-yard run to give the Giants a 21-17 lead with 57 seconds left. Actually he ran about 5 1⁄2 yards and then tried to stop before falling backward into the end zone for one of the most historic and ill-advised touchdowns in Super Bowl history. Instead of running out the clock and kicking the field goal with only a handful of seconds left, the Giants were giving the ball back to Tom Brady with nearly a full minute left.
“So then we think, OK, extra point,” DeOssie said. “And then we realized the score and that we had to go for two. We built ourselves up for one of the most potentially memorable moments of our careers and it just came and went so fast, and Steve and I were dumbfounded. We were excited by what had transpired but also very scared looking at the clock knowing that Brady is going to take the field to do what he does.”
Not that time.
The Giants held on to win as Brady’s final pass fell incomplete in the end zone while the clock hit all zeros.
DeOssie said he was “sitting there holding one side of the Gatorade bucket watching Brady line up for that final Hail Mary and just staring at the ball in the air for what seemed like an eternity.”
“The ball finally drops and all hell breaks loose,” DeOssie said. “I grabbed the bucket with Chris Snee and we poured it on top of coach Coughlin and started going bananas, running around, hugging and crying with my teammates, screaming for my fiancee at the time [now his wife]. I found my college best friend and my high school best friend. My family finally came out . . .
“The first [Super Bowl] was kind of a blur. It was my rookie year, and my head was spinning. I joked with some of my fellow draft picks at the time, at the second one, we joked about paying attention this go-around. I just sort of took time to appreciate the opportunity to be there from start to finish and I remember a lot more.”
Not all of his memories are of opportunities passing him by. DeOssie made an early contribution that is sometimes forgotten in recollections of that game. It happened on the first punt of the game.
“We decided to go quick and sort of get them on their heels and not let them get a good takeoff,” DeOssie said. “We hustled onto the field, snapped quick, and Steve hit a dime down there. It bounced in front of the 5 and I went down and sort of haphazardly by accident fell on it. We downed it at the 6.”
On the Patriots’ first play from that field position, Justin Tuck pressured Brady into throwing the ball away, but because there was no receiver near the football, it was called intentional grounding. Because it happened in the end zone, it was ruled a safety and the Giants went ahead 2-0.
“I had a little chuckle to myself thinking, ‘Hey, I had a part in that safety!’ ” DeOssie said. “Six degrees of separation, sure, but whatever. That’s one I put in the back pocket for the grandkids in the future.”
There were other moments he vividly recalls, too. Pacing in the hallway outside the locker room with Weatherford and kicker Lawrence Tynes waiting for Madonna to finish her halftime show. Chase Blackburn’s interception on a deep pass from Brady to Rob Gronkowski in the fourth quarter. A 51-yard punt by Weatherford that went out of bounds at the 4.
“I took the time to be open to embracing the entire game,” DeOssie said. “I remember a lot more out of this game than I did the first one. Some very fond memories.”
DeOssie has witnessed so many great Giants games in his 11-year career, and even some before that. His father, Steve, was on the Giants team that won Super Bowl XXV. Zak was 5 years old at the time.
There was the frozen overtime in Green Bay for the 2007 NFC Championship Game, the overtime field goal in San Francisco four years later that sent the Giants to Super Bowl XLVI, and the Christmas Eve game against the Jets that was about as intense as that rivalry has ever been. But it’s Super Bowl XLVI that DeOssie said stands out as the game he cherishes the most.
Will it ever be topped? DeOssie hopes so. In fact, he said, he expects it to be.
“That’s why we play this game,” he said. “We’re not playing just to play well, we’re playing to win it all . . . There’s nothing more I would want for my teammates now who have never experienced it, but also to top that last experience for myself. That’s why we play this beautiful game.”
And maybe the next time, he’ll have a chance to snap on the Super Bowl-winning play instead of just watching it.