As Eli Manning once said about Super Bowl XLII, you can just push the fast-forward button on your remote until you get to the fourth quarter. Tom Coughlin’s Giants and Bill Belichick’s undefeated Patriots, who had met 36 days prior in the regular-season finale, played it tight to a 7-3 game in New England’s favor over the first 45 minutes, but the final 15 produced three lead changes and the most improbable play in Super Bowl history.
But the go-ahead drive required more than a prayer and a helmet.
It took a speech from a future Hall of Famer playing in his final game, a dash of magic on third (and fourth) down, surviving a close call that would have secured the first 19-0 season in NFL history, an offensive coordinator who called the same play three times in a row, and one final ball that needed to travel only 13 yards but hung in the air for what felt like an eternity.
This is the oral history -- as told by players, coaches, celebrity fans, and the broadcasters who brought you the game 10 years ago from Glendale, Arizona -- of the Giants’ game-winning drive in Super Bowl XLII.
Our story starts with the Giants trailing 14-10 with 2:42 remaining in the game...
"BELIEVE IT AND IT WILL HAPPEN"
There was a wide belief that Michael Strahan, win or lose, would hang up the cleats after Super Bowl XLII. The Giants’ all-time sacks leader was bound for Canton, but the question was whether he would go in with a championship ring. Two minutes and 42 seconds would decide that. After the Patriots regained the lead, Strahan rallied the troops. Cameras caught him standing in front of the offense before the Giants took the field. “17-14 is the final, OK?” he said. “17-14, fellas. One touchdown, we are world champions. Believe it, and it will happen. 17-14’s the final. Let’s go.”
Michael Strahan (Giants Defensive End): If we lose, nobody ever sees that film [of me on the sideline]. I don’t see the cameras there in that moment, I don’t know what’s going on with all that, but as for me, I wanted to win so bad. I wanted to win so bad. And for these guys, they’re standing there and I know they’re nervous, I know they realize that, but being on the other side of the ball, being on defense, I always believed as a leader you just can’t say, “I lead the defense. What good are you doing me?” I don’t need somebody that just leads one side, I need a leader, I need a team leader, somebody who inspires everybody and I talk to those guys and dealt with those guys to where they were treated like a defensive player. To me, we were all a team. So when I went up to talk to them, that was because I wanted to relay to them what I really believed needed to happen. I need you guys to score a touchdown, we need to be world champions. “One touchdown and we’ll be world champions, believe it and it will happen.” And I truly, in my heart, believed it.
Shaun O'Hara (Giants Center): I felt like Mike was talking to us to give himself a peace of mind. I knew he wasn’t going to go sit on the bench. He was up, and all year long, he had kind of been the motivational guy. If he had to get the pompoms out, he would get the pompoms out. If he had to talk tough, he would talk tough. I think for him to come over to us as we’re getting ready to go out on the field, he was just kind of telling us, “Hey, I believe in you guys.” And he was also trying to let us know, “You guys are doing this for me, this is it.” I think we all knew this was Michael’s last year and that was it, he was done, and this was kind of his last chance.
Chris Snee (Giants Right Guard): When Mike spoke, I listened. David Diehl and I were side by side, and it looked like we were just nodding, but it was going in. We were listening.
David Diehl (Giants Left Tackle): To sit here and watch one of the best defensive ends in the history of the game, the best defensive end that I have ever practiced against, and who came back for this reason to win a Super Bowl and to remember him talking about losing in 2000 and to see his body language that he never got over it and this was his opportunity -- you sense the magnitude of the situation. And for us and him talking, I am nodding and reaffirming like, “I get this situation and I am prepared and ready for what we need to do.”
Rich Seubert (Giants Left Guard): We talked about it the night before: would you rather be down by three or down by four? In that game, if we had the ball with two minutes left with a chance to win it, would you take it? I think everybody on offense says we'll take that, we'll take the odds and we'll see what happens. I never personally thought about the moment at the time; we just wanted to go out there and win the game.
Kareem McKenzie (Giants Right Tackle): Like Mike said, you have to believe. That’s what we did.
Pam Oliver (FOX Sideline Reporter): I saw a gathering, but because I’m not really allowed to go into the bench area, I wasn’t able to see or hear a lot of it. But I did relay to the game producers that they’ve gotten together, there’s a huddle on the Giants’ sideline. Heading into the game, I remember being given the choice to, or being encouraged to go with the Patriots because they were heavily favored, undefeated season, and it made sense on paper. But I think I understood that the Giants had been working with something magical and special and all of those words that you consider corny. I think it’s borderline rude to be with a team when they win their first playoff game but then the next game is like a glamor team like Dallas or somebody. That’s rude. [Tom] Coughlin would ask me. Definitely Osi [Umenyiora]. “You’re not bailing on us, are you?” The coaches, the assistants – “You’re on our sideline, right?” I’m like, “Yeah? I’m on your sideline.” But they would find out during the week and they wanted to know coming into our Friday production meeting who was on what sideline, and that matters to them. It’s crazy, but it matters to them. They were superstitious.
Joe Buck (FOX Play-by-Play): The story was easy to tell. It was a layup as far as we were concerned. It’s funny because I did the game and I don’t remember the first three quarters. There’s nothing that really stands out. I know I was there. I know I watched it. It was easy to set up at the beginning of the broadcast and then you just kind of sat back and watched it all unfold with the rest of the nation. I would say that leading into that game, our production meetings are really a good indication of where these teams are because it’s a couple days before the game. I just remember talking to Strahan and hearing his confidence and walking out of there – same with Tom Coughlin – walking out of their hotel, the team hotel, thinking, “They might win this game.”
Bob Papa (Radio Voice of Giants): I’ll never forget, I want to say it was the night before the game, I was going out to dinner and Strahan was going out to dinner with his family. I remember he was by the valet parking area, and I remember standing out there waiting for a ride and he was waiting. He wasn’t his normal, jovial self, but he had this quiet confidence, this nervous energy. I think he knew it was going to be his last game he was ever going to play in the NFL. But I remember kind of talking with him, kind of realizing, wow, he really believes they’re going to win. And if he believes it, he’s going to be spreading that to his teammates.
Rodney Harrison (Patriots Safety): What we found out [from the Week 17 meeting] was this was one of the most – well, I felt like it was the most physical team that we played that entire year. I felt like them coming out and us being 15-0 and even though they lost that game, I think they looked and they said, “Wow, if these guys are 16-0, we stood up to them. We’re tough. We’re physical. We’re big. They know that we’re tough, big, and physical, and we’re not afraid of them.”
Plaxico Burress (Giants Wide Receiver): I remember for the start of the drive, I look over to the sideline, Doug Williams (the NFL was celebrating the 20th anniversary of him being named Super Bowl XXII MVP) is holding the trophy, he got the white gloves on. I'm like, “We're going to bring that home.” And Diehl and [Patriots defensive end] Richard Seymour are barking right before the drive. Richard Seymour tells Diehl that this game is over with -- “We're going to end it.” Him and Diehl are going back and forth, and I'm just sitting there laughing like, “Yeah, OK.” I'm shaking my head and Diehl is like, “Hey baby, it isn’t over until it's over.” It's a little bit more R-rated than that.
GOING FOR IT
With all three timeouts left, the Giants had to be quick but they didn’t have to hurry after Domenik Hixon’s kickoff return ended abruptly at their own 17-yard line on a big hit by Bubba Ventrone. Eli Manning found Amani Toomer for a first down right away, but then they found themselves with a fourth-and-inches after another Toomer catch was marked just short of the sticks. Enter Brandon Jacobs.
Eli Manning (Giants Quarterback): Hit Toomer on a little hook route on the first play, but then right away get a fourth-and-one. We’ve got to go for it and we got to convert.
Amani Toomer (Giants Wide Receiver): I was shocked that it was fourth down. I couldn't believe that it was fourth down, but it happens in the game, and it points to the focus that we had. We still had another down and we were going to keep going. If Jacobs didn't make it, then we would have just lost, but we would have gave it our best. There is no shame in losing if you try your best. There is shame in losing when you have something left in the barrel. That is why I hated [Super Bowl XXXV]. That game still haunts me because I felt like we didn't give our best shot and that was one thing that I didn't want to do in this Super Bowl.
Brandon Jacobs (Giants Running Back): I had been talking noise to Richard Seymour because he had said something. So he starts running off at the mouth and I’m like, “Bro, we’re about to beat y’all, you might as well get up and get ready to eat it up and walk off the field and just take this huge embarrassment to win 18 games and come here to get beat in the Super Bowl. You’re about to be embarrassed.” I told them that. I was like, “I’m going to get this fourth-and-one.”
Eli Manning (Giants Quarterback): Brandon ran tough in there just to get enough for that first down to keep that drive going, so huge play right there just to give us a chance to drive down there and get that touchdown.
Kevin Gilbride (Giants Off. Coordinator): He made it by an inch. The big knucklehead, I don’t know how he fell down. If you just fall forward, you’ll make a first down by two yards. Someone came in and took his knees out. He made it by about two inches. It was close.
Rich Seubert (Giants Left Guard): Give it to the big boy and let him pummel up the middle. I don't even know the play we ran. I know we ran it right A-gap and everybody’s just submarining and you're just trying to keep your feet going and hopefully he falls forward and he did.
Chris Snee (Giants Right Guard): They kind of ran right behind me and it was one of those things where there are a lot of bodies flying. Everyone is in a big pile and we have a massive Vince Wilfork at nose and we are trying to move him and he is not going anywhere because he is Vince Wilfork. So it wasn't pretty, but it goes along with the whole season, right? It was never pretty.
Bob Papa (Radio Voice of Giants): It’s one of the great, unsung plays. He was blocked and then he got tripped up and only a guy like Brandon Jacobs, just based on his size, was able to get it. It’s not like they opened up some gaping hole and Jacobs ran for four and they got the first down. It took a third and fourth effort to get it. So, play No. 1, the Super Bowl is over if Brandon Jacobs doesn’t make a huge play.
Carl Banks (Giants Radio Analyst): I can tell you, at that moment in the game, if you’re a defender, you’re like, “Uh oh.” Because all you need is one stop to win it and you couldn’t get the one on fourth down.
David Tyree (Giants Wide Receiver): Trust me, Brandon reminds me every time. He reminds me every time with his deep country voice man and lets me know there is no [helmet] catch without fourth-and-one.
GAME OF INCHES
The Helmet Catch. The confetti. The Canyon of Heroes. They don’t exist if All-Pro cornerback Asante Samuel doesn’t let an Eli Manning pass slip through his hands on the sideline at the Patriots 36. If he holds on, New England is 19-0. Rather, second-and-five turned into the most famous third-and-five play in Super Bowl history.
Bob Papa (Radio Voice of Giants): In Arizona, the visiting radio booth was like on the four-yard line, so they’re going away from us. Eli drops back, and if you can picture this, I’m almost looking over Eli’s left shoulder. That’s the view I have. I see Eli drop back to pass and I’m seeing him throw the ball to the right, and all I see is Asante Samuel. I’m like, “Where is he throwing it?” I was ready to call an interception and his hands go up and it’s like a kid playing baseball for the first time who didn’t know how to catch.
Eli Manning (Giants Quarterback): I was thinking I wanted to work the inside. I think one of our guys ran the wrong route on the inside and so then I had to kind of throw it away toward the outside. I just didn’t throw it away quite as high as I wanted to, so I was kind of upset. Luckily Asante couldn’t come down with it.
Rodney Harrison (Patriots Safety): Asante Samuel had the best hands on the field – him and Randy Moss, period. He never drops an interception. He never drops any passes because he feels like that’s money to him, you know what I mean. It was a lot of uncharacteristic things that happened to us in that game.
Jerry Reese (Giants General Manager): There were a lot of plays during the game that they didn’t make. That ball went through his hands on the sideline. That was a big play. It was some luck that went our way. There were a lot of plays during the game that go unnoticed and that people don’t think about.
Joe Buck (FOX Play-by-Play): I think that the Asante Samuel non-interception was kind of the first clue that maybe this wasn’t going to go the Patriots’ way because that should have been an interception. That was a lot easier catch than the Tyree catch, and yet Tyree made it and Asante Samuel didn’t. You do these games and you go back and you don’t know it when you’re in it. But when you look back and you go, “My God, if one thing happened the other way, the story would have been entirely different.”
Troy Aikman (FOX Analyst): Asante Samuel, he not only could have, he should have. He would not have an easier interception in his career, and yet he didn’t make the play. There was a lot happening in that drive that the Giants – they made the plays and the Patriots, who had opportunities, did not. But there was a lot more, what I’m saying, than the helmet catch.
Bill Simmons (The Ringer/Patriots Fan, via email): I cannot talk about that game, be involved in an oral history about it, anything. I hate that game.
Just as the game flashed before the Giants’ eyes, the 100 million viewers at home weren’t about to believe what theirs would see on the next play. On third-and-five from their own 44 with 1:15 left on the clock, Eli Manning and the offensive line were bombarded by Patriots. Adalius Thomas, Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green all got handfuls of white jersey. Nevertheless, No. 10 escaped.
Mike Carey (Super Bowl Referee): Right from the snap, as soon as the ball is snapped, the rush of the defensive line was just relentless, and the pocket broke down right away. And as it collapsed, I couldn’t see anything. So I did what you’re really not supposed to do and that is run around. But it was the only way I was going to be able to see if he was sacked or not. So what I did is I ran to the left and just as I was getting to an open window, he was being pulled backwards and then I grabbed my whistle, like I was getting prepared to do it if they sacked him on that play.
Eli Manning (Giants Quarterback): The first person I saw was Chris Snee, and for a split second I think maybe I should throw the football to him. That got out of my mind pretty quick. I said to myself that I just need to keep pumping and maybe something happens.
Rich Seubert (Giants Left Guard): The whole drive, they were doing the same defense. They were rushing guys on the left. Snee's guy was dropping. [Patriots linebacker] Junior [Seau] was dropping on Snee. My guy picked Shaun, his guy looped around, they brought the guy off the edge for David. Shaun and I were off levels, we got picked -- it happens. But we never gave up. Both of us tried to peel back and get a block and get them off Eli. From my eyes, I was just, “Throw the ball, throw the ball, throw it, Eli, throw it.”
David Diehl (Giants Left Tackle): You feel Eli kind of drift. You just feel it as an offensive lineman, and playing with him for so long, you know where he is going to be. The whistle never went and we just continued to push and push and as an offensive line that what you think is finish.
Kareem McKenzie (Giants Right Tackle): All of a sudden, I see Eli next to me.
Shaun O'Hara (Giants Center): I would look back at the pictures of the play, and every snap Snee is doing nothing. He had an off day basically. We were teasing him that he’s not blocking anybody, so I said, “Well, come over and help us out.”
Chris Snee (Giants Right Guard): Here is my version. I am sticking with it until the day that I die. I was responsible for blocking Junior Seau. We were responsible for four down [linemen] and one linebacker. We declared Junior Seau. He is lining up right over me. The ball is snapped, Junior drops, I look to help and they got beat so quick that I couldn't help anyone. So by that time, I turn and look and then I was a deer in headlights.
Mike Carey (Super Bowl Referee): By that time, Eli comes straight back at me and I see [Patriots linebacker Mike] Vrabel sprinting right towards him and I thought he was going to end up in my lap, so I just backpedaled as fast as I could. I didn’t put [the whistle] in my mouth, but I grabbed it. So right before the snap, it’s in my mouth because just in case there’s a false start, you have to have an immediate reaction. After that, you don’t like to have the whistle in your mouth because you don’t want something inadvertent to happen. So as soon as the snap goes, I drop it, just spit it out, and it dangles there until I’m ready to blow it. When the pocket collapsed, that’s when I grabbed it and was ready to blow it but I never put it in my mouth.
Michael Strahan (Giants Defensive End): At that point, I’m getting a little antsy like, “Come on, man.” I’m watching it going, “Come on, please, just don’t give up a sack, hold the ball, Eli don’t throw a pick, you almost threw an interception to Asante Samuel.” And I’m just nervous the whole way through at that point. And when Eli’s in the clutches of the defense, I’m like literally throwing my head back like “Nooooooooooo, don’t get sacked, it’s over, don’t get sacked.” Then Eli, who is so clumsy, he can’t even walk up on stage without tripping, gets out of it.
Mike Carey (Super Bowl Referee): When he broke loose, it was like he was catapulted out and he almost went down to the ground. They had him grabbed, but they didn’t have him under control. He went backwards a little bit, but then he gathered himself and had enough strength to start pulling forward. And that told me it wasn’t time to blow the whistle. And that move to the other side of the pocket was the only way I would have been able to know for sure he had not been in control.
THE HELMET CATCH
There is a motivational sign hanging in just about every locker room in America: Luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation. Tom Coughlin would later write in his book that he puts it differently: Success is what happens when opportunity meets preparation. Call it whatever you want. David Tyree’s will found a way to pin the football against his helmet for a 32-yard gain and the most memorable play in Super Bowl history.
Kevin Gilbride (Giants Off. Coordinator): I’m not looking at what is happening to Eli. I’m looking at what’s happening down the field. I was wondering what the heck is going on and why he wasn’t throwing the ball because there was no one near Tyree. I’m screaming at him, “Throw the ball! Throw the ball!” I look over and I see the end of it where he is spinning out of the grasp of one or two linemen. Finally, he throws it up. By the time he throws it up, the far safety is playing two deep on the other side, on Plaxico’s side, and he’s able to come over. He sees how wide open Tyree is..
David Tyree (Giants Wide Receiver): I saw some green grass toward the middle of the field and just felt like as soon as I nestled into it, he gave me shot. It kind of had that “Chariots of Fire” music in the background as I am sizing up the football. I remember going up with two hands to make a play and I knew there would be contact, so in my mind I am just mentally bracing myself for the contact. So I go up with two hands and I remember the contact and I knew I had it and the only thing that I am saying in my mind is, “I got this and I am not letting this go.”
Tom Coughlin (Giants Head Coach): On the Friday prior to the Super Bowl game, David Tyree probably has the worst practice of anybody I’ve ever seen. He can’t catch a thing, he drops every ball, ball hits him in the helmet, ball hits him in the shoulder, just he can’t catch anything that day.
Michael Strahan (Giants Defensive End): Couldn’t catch a cold. Couldn’t catch a cold butt-naked in the wintertime, man.
Tom Coughlin (Giants Head Coach): When it’s over, Eli goes to him and says, “David, don’t worry about it. I understand. When it counts, when it’s necessary, you’ll make the play for us.”
Eli Manning (Giants Quarterback): 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. It was third down and saw him in the middle, thought I’d put it up for him and give him a chance where hopefully he could catch it.
Plaxico Burress (Giants Wide Receiver): Rodney goes for the ball. If Rodney just runs into D.T.’s legs and flips him over, he doesn't make that play. But Rodney being Rodney, sometimes he's too smart for his own good. He's a ball hawk, he wanted that interception, and D.T. basically took it from him. I remember going over to David Tyree and I grab him like, “Oh my gosh, man, do you know what you just did? You saved the Super Bowl for us.”
Rodney Harrison (Patriots Safety): Are you kidding me? Nah, there’s nothing I would do differently. Shoot, it was a football play. You get one of the toughest safeties in the history of the NFL trying to knock the ball out and it didn’t come out – big deal. They didn’t score on that [catch]. That’s what people don’t realize. You didn’t score on that [catch]. We still have football left. We have plenty of football left. That drained us. That took our focus off what it should have been: the very next play. That’s what I was more so disappointed about. I mean, a one in a million catch, it happens. It happens. But the thing I was most frustrated about is our inability to respond because we had responded so many times, so well during that year, and that was our character, that was our makeup. And for us not to respond was very disappointing.
David Tyree (Giants Wide Receiver): I remember Steve Smith coming up with some expletives. He is like, “Get off him, get off him. He caught it.” So I called Steve my bodyguard on that play because he was talking crap to Rodney for me.
Plaxico Burress (Giants Wide Receiver): The place is going bananas and David Tyree is like, “I don't know what's going on.” I'm like, “What are you talking about, boy? Get off the field.”
David Tyree (Giants Wide Receiver): I didn’t know anything about the catch. I’m looking at Eli like, “This guy, he just made the play of a lifetime.” Which he did, not knowing really anything that happened on my end. So all the credit, especially initially in those interviews, just went totally to Eli because I really didn’t know anything about the helmet. I had no idea, man. All I remember is getting that second hand back on the football, and I knew I secured it. And then at that point, you know, it’s just football and it’s kind of just like a blur at that point.
Mike Carey (Super Bowl Referee): Our crew was right in tune with it. They had everything covered from every angle. I took a look at the replay the other day, and just the concentration in [back judge Scott Helverson’s] eyes and then Gary Slaughter, who was the line judge, he was the one who relayed the signal. And if you notice, we were there, got the ball spotted and were ready to go for the next play before Eli calls his timeout.
Amani Toomer (Giants Wide Receiver): The referees were spotting the ball, so I remember running up to the side like, “FedEx.” So every time there is a play before they can replay it, we say “FedEx,” which is a power play just so they can't go back and review the play. So I am like, “Everybody get up.” And then Eli was like, “Calm down, guys, calm down, we've got this.” So as soon as I saw it on the replay and I saw it on slow motion and you see it never hit the ground, I remember talking to Plaxico and Plaxico was like, “Man, we can't lose this game now.”
Domenik Hixon (Giants Wide Receiver): Before that play happened, the guys with the [Super Bowl champion] T-shirts were passing them out on the sidelines because they thought we were done. The disrespect shown almost made it like Eli was going to do it. It felt like it was a perfect dream.
Troy Aikman (FOX Analyst): I think my analysis was something like – I was incredulous as far as the Eli escaping the rush and then the catch. It was just one of those moments when you just say, “Holy cow.” You just try not to be too much of the guy sitting on the couch responding to the play. But at the same time, it was one of those just bizarre moment that you’re like, “Did I really just see what I just saw?”
Joe Buck (FOX Play-by-Play): I’m sure if you had a camera on us when that was ruled a catch and we’re looking at the replays, I’m sure our faces were showing shock that somebody can pull down a catch like that, basically pressing it against his helmet. And then of all people, it was David Tyree, who is known really for one moment – I wouldn’t say he would be the first guy you would name who is going to make some circus catch in that Super Bowl, but that’s kind of what those moments are. Somebody rises to the occasion, and a lot of times it’s not the guy you go in thinking is going to do it.
Troy Aikman (FOX Analyst): It happens a lot to where maybe we can’t or won’t or don’t say something on the air and then we go to the commercial break and it’s like one of those, “Are you s* me? What’s going on?” Those are the games, those are the moments that really make my job fun and a real privilege to be a part of it.
Joe Buck (FOX Play-by-Play): It’s true. You can’t be the fan. You can’t be the guy overreacting at a Super Bowl party. You’re the guy there calling it. You have to err on the side of caution on plays like that. The easy ones to call are the ones where the guy is 20 yards behind the defense and it’s clearly a catch and he’s running to the end zone – anybody can call that. It’s the ones we’re talking about like the one with Tyree where you better be sure or egg is on your face as opposed to what happened on the field.
Bob Papa (Radio Voice of Giants): Dick Lynch was in the booth, too, may he rest in peace. That was his last game he ever called before he passed away. I remember Dick sitting back -- and he always had an unlit cigar -- and I remember him saying something afterwards like, “Bobby, that is the most incredible thing. I’ve seen a lot of stuff. They’re not going to lose this game.”
Michael Strahan (Giants Defensive End): When he caught the ball, game was over. We didn’t have to score a touchdown at that point, the game was already over. We knew we were going to win because I felt our story was too great and our season was too great to end with a loss. After he caught the ball, it was like, “The miracle continues.”
David Tyree (Giants Wide Receiver): When I get back to the hotel, obviously it’s like a fiesta and the hotel is now party central and it was great and I was just living in the moment, hanging out downstairs with family, friends, you know, embracing teammates. And I said, “I need to go see what this thing looks like.” So I finally just run inside, they’ve got TVs playing highlights and I see the catch, and I’m like, for the first time in my life, my jaw drops. That was the first time in my life I was impressed with my own work. Then it really set in the next day because I never really had media attention really in my career and they’re asking me to do some stuff on camera from Arizona. The next thing, this storm arises as far as what is being called the greatest catch in Super Bowl history.
Bill Simmons (The Ringer/Patriots Fan, via email): I cannot talk about that game, be involved in an oral history about it, anything. I hate that game.
MOVING THE CHAINS
The Helmet Catch, although incredible, did not put any points on the board. The Giants still needed a touchdown, and after a sack and an incompletion, the reality was the Giants found themselves facing third-and-11 at the Patriots 25 with 45 seconds remaining. What better time to rely on a rookie second-round draft pick playing in just his ninth NFL game? That’s when Steve Smith made a heady play to tightrope up the sideline for 12 yards and a fresh set of downs.
Mike Sullivan (Giants WR Coach): Steve was running a drag route on that play. He was not the QB’s primary read, but it opened up as he gained leverage on the defense. He had been told that, in two-minute situations, you always gain as many yards as possible before going out of bounds. He showed good awareness and athleticism in picking up the first down after the catch. I remember being thankful the referee didn’t call a penalty on him because he handed the ball to the defender after the tackle and could have been flagged for taunting.
Steve Smith (Giants WR): It was just a standard play that we called all year and I was just ready to go. We called it and we broke the huddle and we knew what was on the line, so it was my time to make a play and it was the right coverage and Eli came to me and he always put the ball right on the money in the big games. That is one thing I can credit him with, for sure, and I was fortunate enough to make the play.
Bob Papa (Radio Voice of Giants): You could just feel all of the momentum. You could see in the stands, the Patriots fans, you could see on the Patriots bench on the near sideline that there’s a deflation. It’s almost like inevitable that they know what’s coming next, that the Giants are scoring a touchdown.
Tom Coughlin (Giants Head Coach): Steve makes a big play just to keep us going, to keep the drive going, but that was the way it was all along -- a big play here, big play there, put yourself in position. Somebody do something to keep the drive alive. That’s what Eli and Steve did.
Rodney Harrison (Patriots Safety): See, people don’t talk about that. That was huge. The David Tyree catch was obviously a crazy moment in the game, but ... when we didn’t stop them on that play, that’s when I started being afraid a little bit.
Rich Seubert (Giants Left Guard): Oh, we're going to win.
PLAX FOR THE WIN
Gravity is a pesky thing. The next play couldn’t unfold fast enough when the Giants got to the line of scrimmage at the Patriots 13 and saw the coverage they wanted. Eli Manning knew it. Plaxico Burress knew it. Even New England knew it. One-on-one with a six-foot-five receiver and an all-out blitz coming would spell victory for the Giants and imperfection for the 18-0 Patriots. The four-second play took forever.
Kevin Gilbride (Giants Off. Coordinator): I called the same play again on the next play. In my 24 years in the NFL, I never called the same play three times in a row ever. I called that play expecting the same coverage. I’m thinking they were going to play quarters coverage and sure enough, that’s what they do. For the first time ever they blitzed and brought everyone. That meant that Plaxico was by himself on the wide side of the field. Now, he has the one-on-one.
Plaxico Buress (Giants Wide Receiver): Oh, man, they’re just sticking me on the backside. I'm like, “I'm getting doubled, I know I'm getting doubled.” Eli grabs me right before I break the huddle, he's like, “If they get single, I'm throwing it.” They called single cover on me maybe five times the whole game. I'm like, “They're not going to single me right now.” So we run out and I get to the line. My first initial thought was, “Man, I can't go left.” I make a decision at the line of scrimmage, he's going to throw it and I'm going to have to go up and fight for this ball or I'm going to have to jump off this [bad] knee. I said, “Man, you know what, just run the route like you're healthy. If it goes, it goes.” That's the conversation that I had with myself before the ball was hiked because I'm planting off the knee that's taped and I can't go left. I'm like, “If you tear it up, it better be on the last play of the game.”
Tom Coughlin (Giants Head Coach): I didn’t know that Plaxico was going to play until about one minute before I had to turn [the inactive list] in, because I go in, [head athletic trainer] Ronnie [Barnes] is going to work Plaxico out and let me know. “Well, Plaxico’s doing this, he’s doing that, he can’t get them out on the field.” Ronnie goes out on the field and he does a few things and Ronnie’s in his ear and he comes in – “He’s going to play, he’s going to play.”
Plaxico Burress (Giants Wide Receiver): I had watched so much film of Ellis Hobbs. For some reason, when he gets inside the 10, he backs up to the goal line and he stops his feet. I kept watching him on tape all week because I had him on the same play basically in Week 17 in Giants Stadium, he backs up to the goal line and stopped his feet, the ball went behind me and I didn't make the play. I started watching tape on him inside the red zone; inside the red zone he stops his feet. I was like, “If he stays true to form and he stops his feet, I'm going to make a move.”
Mike Sullivan (Giants WR Coach): I lost count of how many Fridays I would go down to just get in a workout or something and this is when all the players are gone and he is the lone guy in the wide receiver room watching tape and he has his notebook out and he took notes and had very neat penmanship and I always used to bust his chops. He had very neat penmanship. But he spent so much time and he was very smart. Even Kevin Gilbride said that out of all the players that he coached -- and Kevin coached a lot of great ones -- that there was never a player who was more perceptive and who could tell you exactly what happened better than him.
Plaxico Burress (Giants Wide Receiver): So I see the coverage and I'm like, “Oh my gosh. The ball is coming.” And then it's blitz coverage. Eli can't hike the ball fast enough. He's like, “Hike it, hike it.”
Kevin Gilbride (Giants Off. Coordinator): Brandon had to block a man. They were doing an “uno mas” blitz, meaning that they’re sending one more than you have. If you have seven blockers, they have eight blitzing. They had that blitz coming and they were going to try and force it out of Eli’s hands. Sure enough, he stayed in, blocked his guy and the rest is history.
Brandon Jacobs (Giants Running Back): I’m to Eli’s left, just like the play before that, but I see pressure coming from the right. I run in front of Eli to clean up and he throws it.
Eli Manning (Giants Quarterback): They were in an all-out blitz, so I didn’t know if I was going to have a free rusher coming to hit me. So I probably threw it a little bit earlier than I anticipated. I wasn’t going to overthrow it. I saw the man-to-man coverage and a 6-5 on 5-7, so if anything, I was going to put it high and give him a chance to make the play. He ended up beating him clean, and yeah, that ball hung up there for a while.
Plaxico Buress (Giants Wide Receiver): He lets it go, and I make a move on Ellis Hobbs and he's in coverage zero, he has to protect his inside, and he just makes one step, steps down, takes the fake and I just run clean by him. I see the ball up and people in the stands. I turn 360 degrees running full speed with a bad knee. Then like the feeling went out of me. I was like walking on air. I couldn't believe it just happened. I couldn't believe it was me of all people.
Tom Coughlin (Giants Head Coach): I’m seeing Plaxico literally running into the end zone by himself, and I’m just, “Catch that thing now, don’t take your eye off the ball under those circumstances.”
Rich Seubert (Giants Left Guard): I think I could've ran down there and caught it before Plaxico did. I remember seeing that ball go over my head because you knew where it was going; it was going out to Plax for the one-on-one matchup. It took forever, it really did. But he caught it and it was -- I don't know what happened after that. I just know we were running around like little kids.
Kevin Gilbride (Giants Off. Coordinator): I can’t believe he floated it to him. He threw it so gently.
Shaun O'Hara (Giants Center): Yeah, it felt like the ball hung up there for a while, but I knew as soon as I looked over there that it was a touchdown because I mean Plaxico was all by himself.
Rodney Harrison (Patriots Safety): The only thing I regret is not changing that blitz. I knew where Eli wanted to go and that was probably one of the biggest regrets I’ve had because I was trying to change it. I was yelling at Junior. I just needed him to confirm with me, so we can all be on the same page, and he never confirmed with me because, of course, he’s Junior, he wants to get to the quarterback, he wants to blitz.
Carl Banks (Giants Radio Analyst): Styles make fights. This Giants team didn’t make a lot of adjustments personnel-wise; they made the adjustments in how they gameplanned it because they had guys across the board who matched up. They matched up so well, and I think the Patriots knew it, although they didn’t want to admit it. I know Bill Belichick very well; I know he told his team that this is the best football team you’re going to face all year. That was the kind of moment that was made for NFL Films.
Joe Buck (FOX Play-by-Play): I remember calling that fourth quarter on the Burress touchdown and I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest just because you do a game of that magnitude and you know there’s over 100 million people watching and then you get a great game on top of it. By that point, that was only our second Super Bowl. The first one was Patriots beating the Eagles, and it was kind of non-descript. Even though the final score was a three-point game, it just didn’t have that feel. And it was like, “My God, this game is living up to the hype.” You get that rush of excitement and nerves like, “Just don’t screw this up.” You know that people are glued to their televisions watching this game. In other instances, even in a Super Bowl, if the game is not competitive, it’s just kind of background noise at a party. And this was just an incredible game that you knew people were going to dissect for years to come. And here we are, 10 years after talking about specific plays and moments in time.
Rodney Harrison (Patriots Safety): I put it like this, that season for us was an incredibly successful season. No one has done that, ever, in the history of the NFL. Sixteen weeks, undefeated. We learned a lot about ourselves, and we had such great moments and memories. And it was fantastic. Obviously there’s disappointment in the Super Bowl, but you’ve got to give the Giants a lot of props. I really have a lot of respect for that team.
David Tyree (Giants Wide Receiver): So a lot of people ask me, “What were your feelings?” If there’s one word I can use, it is awe – A, W, E. I think you have every rush of emotion when you know what’s before you. Obviously, we still had a few more plays with Tom Brady and the crew, you know. As elated as you are, you know what’s ahead of you. Sweat out those few plays and wait for the confetti.
With Tom Brady, it’s never over. As bedlam broke out on the Giants’ sideline, the defense needed to regain its focus for one last stop. On the other side, the Patriots, who were the highest-scoring team in NFL history at that point, just needed to get Stephen Gostkowski into field goal range.
After an incompletion to Jabar Gaffney and a sack by Jay Alford for a 10-yard loss, the Patriots called a timeout. Hail Mary time. Randy Moss time. Dropping back near his own 10-yard line, Brady launched a pass to Moss that landed at the opposite 20. Incomplete. Fourth down. Brady dropped back again and fired another missile to Moss. Incomplete.
Cue the confetti.