Mario Manningham makes the play of his life. (AP)
New York Giants receiver David Tyree was never able to cash in on the amazing "helmet catch" in Super Bowl XLII -- he was out of the NFL two seasons after leaping over New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison and making one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history. Receiver Mario Manningham, who was on the receiving end of Eli Manning's unbelievable throw -- the 38-yard play that began the Giants' 88-yard game-winning drive in Super Bowl XLVI -- will fare better than his one-hit predecessor. On Saturday, Manningham signed a two-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers, bringing in a yet-undisclosed sum in salary and guarantees.
"On the sideline they were going like this [gesturing a successful catch], so I knew I was in," Manningham said of the play right after the Giants' 21-17 victory. "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 backpedal, 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."
Manningham caught five passes for 73 yards in the game, and 13 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns in the postseason. When the Giants defeated the 49ers in the NFC championship game, San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith threw nine passes to his wide receivers and completed just one for 3 yards. He was far more productive when throwing to his backs and tight ends.
While Tyree was mostly a special-teamer who happened to be in the right place at the right time, Manningham has amassed fairly impressive numbers since the Giants took him out of Michigan in the third round of the 2008 NFL draft. In 2009, he caught 57 passes for 822 yards and five touchdowns, and he grabbed 60 passes for 944 yards and nine scores in 2010. His catch total dropped to 39 in 2011 as speedster Victor Cruz became the new popular face of the Giants' receiver corps.
During Super Bowl week, Manningham said that he'd worry about his free-agent status after the season was over. Then, he was just happy to have the opportunity to make a big play on the ultimate stage. "With a team like this and the coaching staff we have, good players and great attitudes, that stuff lingers around the locker room. Once everyone wants to win and starts playing to their potential, that's when you realize you can do this."
The Giants didn't make a big push for Manningham's return, but the 49ers need an entire new group of receivers -- that's why they've also taken a shot on Randy Moss. Manningham will get more opportunities than he would have in the Big Apple, and there's a decent chance he'll be catching passes from Peyton Manning. Of course, the 49ers are one of three teams still in the hunt for the future Hall of Famer. So, we could once again see "Manning-to-Manningham" -- perhaps even in another Super Bowl -- with a different quarterback this time.
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