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Umenyiora proves leadership role


Osi Umenyiora kept a running dialogue with Mario Manningham throughout the 2011 season.

"We've talked about something all year," Manningham said late Sunday night.

"I just always kept on talking to him, encouraging him," Umenyiora said. "There were times things were rough for him, things were rough for me. But I've been through so much and I always told him, 'It always comes back around. No matter what happens, it's always going to come back around.'"

At the team's practice at the University of Indianapolis last Thursday, Umenyiora was concerned enough about his friend and teammate to approach him during the workout.

"He knelt down next to me and I told him, 'Man, listen, you're a great player and it's going to come around to you,'" Umenyiora said. "'It's going to be on you this game.' He's been a little down and I went up to him and said, 'Everything happens for a reason. I told him he was going to win the game, he was going to make a play.' And he came through."

He sure did. Manningham made the longest and most critical play of Super Bowl XLVI, a remarkable 38-yard reception on the first play of the Giants' game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. The catch delivered the ball to midfield. Less than three minutes later, Ahmad Bradshaw scored on a six-yard touchdown run to give the Giants a 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots.

"Manningham made a huge play to get us down there," Coach Tom Coughlin said.

Manningham caught Eli Manning's perfect pass – the quarterback placed it so defensive backs Patrick Chung and Sterling Moore couldn't get it - on the left sideline right in front of the Patriots' bench. Although he was less than a yard from the sideline, Manningham somehow kept both feet in bounds before he was shoved out of bounds. New England Coach Bill Belichick was standing close enough to Manningham to tackle him, but he apparently didn't believe what he saw because he threw his challenge flag. After review, referee John Parry upheld the call on the field.

The catch will go down in Giants lore as did David Tyree's famous helmet grab in the victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

"I'm not going to compare catches," Manningham said. "We won the game. You can't really compare the catches. He caught the ball with his helmet, I had good footwork."

That is the understatement of the long season.

"I knew I had to freeze my feet when the ball touched my fingertips," Manningham said. "Wherever I was at when the ball hit my fingertips, I just froze my feet and fell. I knew I was either going to get hit or hit the ground. I knew something was going to happen, but I knew that I couldn't let that ball go."

Despite Belichick's challenge, Manningham was certain he had stayed inbounds to secure the reception.

"On the sideline they were going like this (gesturing a successful catch), so I knew I was in," Manningham said. "It was a perfect throw. They rolled into cover-two at the last minute and I saw the corner was acting like he was going to backpeddle, but he came up to play cover-two and I extended to the side a little bit and worked him outside. Eli just put the ball on the money. Great pass protection, great ball. I knew where I was on the sideline. I knew I didn't have that much room. Good thing I wear (shoe size) 11s, because if I wore 11.5s, I don't think I'd have been in."

Manning, who also threw the ball that Tyree caught, was asked about Manningham's catch and typically responded with a professional critique.

"They were in cover-2," Manning said. "Usually, that is not your match-up. They had us covered pretty well to the right. I looked that way. I saw I had the safety cheated in a little bit and threw it down the sideline. Great catch by him, keeping both feet in. That's a huge play in the game right there; when you're backed up, to get a 40-yard gain and get to the middle of the field. That way we can pace ourselves a little bit, run the ball a little bit. It was a big, big, big-time play right there."

Manning had thrown a similar pass to the same target in the third quarter, but Manningham was unable to come up with the ball.

"Eli said, 'My bad, I should have kept the ball in,'" Manningham said. "We're a team though, it's both of us. I could have stayed in and he could have thrown a better ball."

Amid the raucous celebration in the Giants' postgame locker room stood the now-retired Tyree, dressed in a suit and patterned tie. He was thrilled to have Manningham join him on the short list of Giants receivers who have made unforgettable Super Bowl catches.

"That catch (that he made) kind of transcended my career and it allowed me to be part of a great franchise and a part of NFL history," Tyree said. "For his own play in his career, he now has that.

"The importance and the significance of that moment, those were the questions going in – who's going to be the guy to make that catch that's going to change the tide. And Mario Manningham he showed up huge. What I liked beyond it was, he wasn't able to bring in the same catch, just a quarter earlier, on the sideline. And he comes back up and Eli gives him another chance. And it's not like he dropped it, but it almost reminds me of my six dropped passes on Friday (two days before Super Bowl XLII), Eli coming and patting me on the back and coming right back at me on Sunday."

In noting the differences between the two catches, Tyree mentioned the Giants' career receptions' leader – who was also in attendance here.

"A lot of people are going to ask me about that catch," he said, "but that's well-dressed Amani Toomer all the way with that footwork. I'm just happy to be here and take a ride with this amazing franchise."

In the days before the game, Manningham didn't get as much attention as fellow receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. But Umenyiora knew his friend would be there when his team needed him.

"He's a great football player," Umenyiora said, "and he came through and he played big."

As Manningham stood at his locker talking to a group of reporters, Umenyiora burst in and said, 'I told you, I told you.'"

The man was right.

*Giants owner Ann Mara, the matriarch of the franchise, was asked how her late, loved husband Wellington would have liked the 2011 Giants.

"Oh, he would have absolutely loved it," she said. "Because they came from being (7-7) and winning each week and they really did some job, each one of them. I'm really proud of all those guys. And I'm proud of our scouting system which got us all of those guys."

Asked what she thought of Manning, Mrs. Mara said, "He's up there with all my favorites – Y.A. Tittle and Charlie Conerly – he's up there with all of them."

*Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was asked about defending the Patriots' Hail Mary on the game's final play.

"We have a special design for it but we were praying a lot over there, too," Fewell said. "We thought some of the guys got their hands on it. We wanted to knock the ball down, but the thing I was looking for was that there wasn't a foul on the play to give them another play at the end of the game. It was clean from that standpoint." 

*Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka went through his early pregame drills with a T-shirt that read, "Cathedral Alumni." He grew up in Indianapolis and was a star at Cathedral High School, about 11 miles from Lucas Oil Stadium. Kiwanuka enjoyed the rare treat of winning a Super Bowl in his hometown – particularly since he was on injured reserve and couldn't play in Super Bowl XLII.

 "This is the one - this is the ring that I have been waiting for my entire life," Kiwanuka said. "You can't describe it. I always dreamed that I would be in the Super Bowl. I always dreamed that this team would be playing in the biggest game. To have it here at home, that is just an unbelievable experience.   I love that 2007 team and accomplished some great things and I know that I was a part of it, but to be able to say that I was out there with this group from beginning to end for an entire season and no matter what ups and downs we went through, I was there with them. I feel for every guy that is on (injured reserve) on this side and that side of the ball."

*Kiwanuka on Chase Blackburn's fourth-quarter interception of along Tom Brady pass at the Giants' eight-yard line.

"It was huge," Kiwanuka said. "If you want to talk about an unsung hero, write a four-page article about that guy. He is about at prototypical as a New York Giants player can be because of everything that he has been through as an individual coming back and never missing a beat (Blackburn was signed on Nov. 29) and then coming up big in a game like this. It's incredible." 

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