It’s been 10 seasons since David Tyree used five fingers and one helmet to make the singular greatest catch in Super Bowl history. And yet not one person recognized Giants Super Bowl XLII hero David Tyree on 42nd Street in Manhattan on Friday night or stopped for an autograph.
“Hey, I’m still anonymous man,” Tyree, 37, now the Giants’ director of player development, said with a laugh as he entered former coach Tom Coughlin’s 13th annual Jay Fund Champions for Children dinner at Cipriani.
But while Tyree may not draw a crowd, he is forever immortalized by his incredible grab of Eli Manning’s pass on the Giants’ game-winning drive to knock off the undefeated New England Patriots. Now whenever an NFL receiver makes a great catch, it’s impossible to gauge its significance without comparing it to Tyree’s.
“If it’s not the best, it’s certainly the standard,” Tyree said with a smile.
Funny enough, Tyree actually believes a Patriot’s recent Super Bowl heroics represent the only catch comparable to his own: Julian Edelman’s diving fourth-quarter juggling grab in Super Bowl LI in February, snagging a tipped ball with his fingertips and the help of a Falcons defender’s shoe in a pile of three Atlanta players.
“I’ll say this: Of all the catches that have kind of come along since my catch 10 years ago, Edelman’s was — I feel personally — that was the only one that was comparable,” Tyree said. “No one has ever heard me say I made the greatest catch in Super Bowl history. I let other people do that. (But) every time a great catch comes along — this is my one claim to fame, if you want to call it that — they don’t really compare it to anybody else’s catch; they compare it to the helmet catch. That’s the standard.”
What elevates Tyree and Edelman into another stratosphere is not just the difficulty of their catches, either, but also the circumstances and stakes in which they accomplished their impossible feat.
Tyree made his 32-yard grab with Patriots safety Rodney Harrison draped all over him, on third-and-5 with 59 seconds left in a Super Bowl, and the Giants trailing New England, 14-10, leading to the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. Edelman made his 23-yard catch on first-and-10 with just over two minutes left on the game-tying drive in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
That is why, while Dallas Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley’s ridiculous behind-the-back grab against the Giants last week — with the help of Beasley’s helmet — deserved Tyree’s tip-of-the-cap, it’s not in the same class.
“(Beasley’s catch) was pretty freaky,” Tyree said. “I wasn’t sure if he actually grabbed it without touching his helmet or on his helmet. Either way it was phenomenal. The fact that it was behind the head, the swagger level on that was 1,000. (But) for the most part if I had to argue my case, (my catch was made with) factors that very likely will never be created again. It’s the dream scenario, and that’s what makes it what it was.”
Monday night at halftime of the Giants’ home opener against the Detroit Lions, the franchise will be honoring Tyree, Tom Coughlin and the 2007 Super Bowl Champion Giants on their 10th anniversary. Tyree’s helmet won’t be on hand, though. It’s in Canton, on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which fulfilled a prediction Tyree says one of his friends eerily had made the night before Super Bowl XLII.
“I remember somebody actually said, ‘David, you’re gonna be in the Hall of Fame,’ and I knew where I was in my career, as a special teams player and a role player,” Tyree recalled. “I was like, ‘OK. A lot has got to happen and change in my career for that to happen (laughs). But when they asked for the helmet in the Hall of Fame, I was like, I’m in the Hall of Fame.’”
Tyree still marvels he was able to crack Canton: The helmet catch was the last catch of his otherwise ordinary six-year NFL career in which he caught only 54 total passes in 83 career games. It was also only his third catch of that Super Bowl, after a five-yard reception and a six-yard TD grab early in the fourth quarter.
“I was hard-pressed to teach him to make that catch. It took me a long time,” Coughlin joked Friday.
It is equally as hard to believe when hearing the story of Tyree’s terrible practice the Friday before the game.
“(Tyree’s bad practice) was on our mind all the way through,” Coughlin said. “But Eli grabbed him, put his arm around him and told him we all knew he would come through in the game. And he did. But that practice was something else. (Tyree) tells the story of Antonio Pierce and (Michael) Strahan standing on the sideline yelling, “Beat ‘em up, ball! Beat ‘em up, ball!” Because the ball hit him every which way.”
Tyree can’t pretend it wasn’t as bad as his teammates and former coach made it seem.
David Tyree manages to hang on – with the help of his helmet – despite the best efforts of Rodney Harrison.
“I think it’s safe to say I’d definitely had a bad practice before, just never before the biggest game of any human’s life, when you consider that’s supposed to be the cleanest practice of the week,” Tyree said with a smirk. “It just couldn’t have come at a worse time. But having a bad practice is dropping two balls. You can’t even count how many balls I dropped at that practice. (Still), it didn’t affect my confidence. It was great having Eli come alongside of me at the end of the day and say, ‘Listen, man, I know you’re gonna be ready.”
Manning’s escape from the clutches of the Patriots’ pass rush was equally as amazing before he lofted the pass to Tyree. In fact, when the Daily News approached Odell Beckham Jr. in Friday’s open locker room to ask him for his take on Tyree’s magical catch, Beckham turned to Manning and said:
“Hey, Eli! He’s asking me about that throw you made to Tyree.”
Manning recently told the Giants’ website of the play: “I saw a white jersey in the middle of the field. I was looking down the field just for somebody. I saw David and we were just kind of running out of time … thought I’d put it up for him and give him a chance where hopefully he could catch it.”
Harrison, the Patriots’ safety, was defiant in his interview recounting Tyree’s catch: “Are you kidding me? Nah, there’s nothing I would do differently … They didn’t score on that … (But) that drained us … I mean, a one-in-a-million catch … But the thing I was most frustrated about it our inability to respond.”
Tyree said he had no idea how great of a catch he had made at first. He didn’t even see a replay until he got back to the hotel to celebrate. “I knew it was a great catch. Historic? No,” he said laughing.
But Tyree said his understanding set in when he heard Steve Sabol, the late former president and founder of NFL Films, call it the greatest catch in Super Bowl history. “Because I didn’t know much about NFL history or any kind of history, but I knew Steve Sabol did,” Tyree said.
So what lessons if any does he take from that season, that catch, that improbable victory?
“For me personally, I’m a father raising seven children, I’ve got 75 other children at the facility in my job, and I think there’s some moments when it can hit home,” Tyree said. “(There’s) the resolve, the need to have belief, inner belief but also in things outside of yourself — for me it was God. Having a foundation, overcoming adversity, losing my mom, starting the season not knowing whether I was gonna be on the roster. All of those things, it makes for the whole story not just for me individually but for the mantra of our team, what we had to overcome to be champions.”