GLENDALE, Ariz. - David Tyree stretched every inch of his 6-foot frame, straining as if the whole Super Bowl was at stake.
Because in a way, it was.
Somehow, with time running out and the ball pinned to his helmet, Tyree held on tight with both hands Sunday. Years from now, New York Giants fans will still wonder how he did it.
“I don’t know that there’s ever been a bigger play in the Super Bowl than that play,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
Little more than a special teams player all season — he had twice as many tackles as catches — Tyree became an All-Pro in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 17-14 stunner over the mighty New England Patriots.
First, he shook loose over the middle to catch a 5-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning that put the Giants ahead. Then Tyree topped himself, outfighting Patriots safety Rodney Harrison to make a tumbling, circus grab that set up the winning score.
“I am a man that really has to capitalize on his few opportunities,” Tyree said. “Some things just don’t make sense and I guess you can just put that catch there with them.”
Amazing, for more than one reason.
“Unbelievable,” Giants receiver Amani Toomer said. “In Friday’s practice, he was dropping everything.”
Pretty neat trick for a guy who started the season with a broken wrist. And someone who overcame adversity, too — Tyree missed a game after his mother died of a heart attack in mid-December.
Tyree finished with three catches for 43 yards receiving and one touchdown against a team that was trying to complete a perfect run. He had totaled five catches, 40 yards and zero TDs all season.
“I think every receiver has to believe he’s the best guy out there,” Tyree said.
Surrounded by the likes of Randy Moss, Plaxico Burress, Wes Welker and Toomer, the fifth-year receiver from Syracuse was. Out of nowhere.
“A lot of people call me a special teams player. They don’t give me any recognition as a wide receiver, and that is fine,” Tyree said. “You tell me to do something and I am going to go out there and do it.”
Nice that he had confidence in himself. Maybe he should’ve shared that with Michael Strahan before the crazy catch.
“That play alone took a few years off my life,” the grinning defensive end said.
Scrambling to his right, he made a desperate, dangerous toss deep down the middle where Harrison and cornerback Asante Samuel were lurking. Tyree jumped up and with Harrison on his back, managed to get both hands on the ball.
Harrison fought him the whole way, slapping at the ball and momentarily pinning it to Tyree’s helmet. That gave Tyree a chance to get a better grip and as he fell backward, he had the presence to hold the ball aloft to show it belonged to him.
“I thought the play was representative of us not really getting the breaks that we were used to getting,” Harrison said.
The 32-yard gain to the New England 24 seemed to startle Harrison and his teammates while the Giants jumped up and down on the sideline.
“He made a hell of a play,” Samuel said.
“Rodney was right there,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said.
“That ball was challenged,” Coughlin said.
The Giants called a timeout with 59 seconds remaining and four plays later, Manning hit Burress for the winner.
“David Tyree, that’s all you have to say,” Manning said. “It was just a great catch by David Tyree. I found a way to get loose and just really threw it up. He made an unbelievable catch and saved the game.”
Manning’s big brother, Peyton, went further. The Indianapolis Colts quarterback and MVP of last year’s Super Bowl likened Tyree’s grab to the great made by Lynn Swann in a long-ago NFL title game.
“Eli’s pass to Tyree, I think, was one of the greatest plays of all time,” Peyton said. “You always see Swann’s catch.”
Earlier, Tyree pulled in a bullet pass from Manning that put the Giants ahead 10-7 with 11:05 left in the fourth quarter. That was merely a prelude for what was to come.
Deeply religious, Tyree fell to his knees on the field when the game ended. About a half-hour later, he was being interviewed as a star of the game.
Several reporters shouted questions at the same time, and that caused trouble for Tyree.
“I didn’t catch that,” he told one.
That was about the only thing he didn’t pull in all day.
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