We all know how great that David Tyree(notes) catch was in Super Bowl XLII. Eli Manning(notes) avoiding a sack, Tyree's ball-on-helmet grab in traffic and the New York Giants ending a perfect season for the New England Patriots. It was fantastic. But was it truly the best in NFL history, as some have called it in the wake of the wide receiver's retirement this week?
If Steve Sabol says it's the top play in Super Bowl history, then I'm not arguing. The best in the 44-game history of the Super Bowl doesn't mean it's the best in every game ever contested, however.
What follows is not a degradation of the Manning-to-Tyree catch. Instead, it's a list of three reasons why it's not the single greatest play in the history of the league:
1. It came on third down. Yes, third down, not fourth. I know, I was stunned too. Over the past two years, the catch has taken on such mythic status that most people assume it came on fourth-and-45 and that Eli Manning evaded Napolean's army to throw it and that David Tyree actually has no hands and that Joe Buck excitedly called the action. It was actually a third-and-5 though. This doesn't diminish Eli's avoidance of the rush or the awesomee of Tyree's grab, but it didn't quite have the do-or-die ramifications that you may have thought. (Eli eluding the sack did have a do-or-die quality to it though. He gets sacked and it's something like fourth-and-20 and the game might as well have been over.)
2. The Giants still had to score a touchdown. There were 59 seconds left when Tyree caught the ball. Two plays later, the Giants faced third-and-11 from the Pats 25-yard line and Steve Smith caught a 12-yard pass for the first. Then, with 35 seconds left, Manning found Plaxico Burress(notes) for the go-ahead touchdown. Since the Giants needed a touchdown and not a field goal, one could reasonably argue that the Tyree catch wasn't even the biggest play on that drive.
3. New England still had a chance to win the game after the Giants scored. In fact, it's fair to say that most football fans watching the game assumed Tom Brady(notes) would lead a comeback. Yes, there were only 29 seconds left and the Pats had the ball on their own 26 but New England had three timeouts and needed only a field goal to send the game into overtime.
So if not Tyree, then what's the best play ever? Four instantly come to mind: the Immaculate Reception, The Catch, Alan Ameche's run in the greatest game ever played and, my personal No. 1, Bart Starr's quarterback sneak in the Ice Bowl. A little history on that famous play:
With 16 seconds left in the 1967 NFL Championship Game, Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers were down three points and had a third down on the goal line. An incomplete pass would have given the Packers enough time to kick a field goal and send the game into overtime. An unsuccessful run would likely have ended the game. During the timeout, Starr suggested the sneak. Vince Lombardi looked at him and replied, "run it and let's get the hell out of here."
Green Bay, of course, scored and went on to win Super Bowl II. In his NFL history "America's Game," author Michael MacCambridge described the ramifications of the touchdown:
Had the Packers not scored on the play, there almost certainly wouldn't have been time to bring the field goal unit on for a tying kick, or even to run another play of any kind. In that event, the Packers would never have won their third straight title and their coach would have been pilloried for his blunder. Or, as Pat Summerall put it later, "if they don't score there, then Lombardi doesn't become Lombardi."
If Tyree doesn't make his catch, the Giants would have faced fourth-and-5.
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