There's no bigger star-making event than the Super Bowl. "American Idol" winners come and go. You'll struggle to remember 2011 World Series hero David Freese's name in five years. But succeed one moment in time in the biggest game in America? You enter a rarefied air whether or not you're a star quarterback or a backup role player. After your playing days are over, you never buy a drink at a bar, and you get paid $10K per appearance at card shows to sign your name on glossy pictures of your triumph. You spend your time basking.
Or, you stay at your house to home-school your children, write books and weigh in on controversial subjects like same-sex marriage.
The ball stuck to his helmet like it had poster board tape on its underside. The Patriots were in a daze, as were the fans who couldn't believe it actually happened. Really? The Giants are still driving? Um, OK. Tyree's catch, which helped vault the Giants past the Patriots to win Super Bowl XLII, is widely regarded as the greatest catch in Super Bowl history. It was the greatest. It was improbable, and it came as he went up against one of the best safeties in the game in Rodney Harrison. It was unlikely. But it happened, and a star was born.
This week, Tyree reflected on his achievement: "(I) Just know that as great a catch as that was, as great as that moment was in my career, it was, for a guy like me, I knew essentially whether I was healthy and I continued to play on in my career, the truth of the matter was I wasn't going to have a moment that eclipsed that."
I remember thinking the stage was set for someone to be a hero. After Tom Brady threw the go-ahead TD pass to Randy Moss, the New England sideline was celebrating just a bit too much. Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau hugged as if there were only seconds remaining, instead of over two minutes. But for the hero to be Tyree? He may be the most unlikeliest of heroes we've seen in the Super Bowl. Even though he played a skill position, he barely got on the field. At least Timmy Smith was a starting running back in the big game, and Dexter Jackson was a starter as well for Tampa Bay. But Tyree? Who knew? Sometimes during a team's darkest hour you never know who's going to step up.
But he never caught another pass with the Giants. In fact, he never caught another pass in the NFL, period.
That was the thing about Tyree. He was never really healthy. A special teams ace out of Syracuse, he had promise but his highest reception total in a season was 19. He suffered a knee injury in training camp the year after the Super Bowl and missed all of 2008. New York waived him a year later, just before the regular season began. He signed with Baltimore in October 2009, ostensibly to help on kickoff and punt coverage, but retired after that season with no one in need of his services. His career was over at 30 years old. Wasn't he a celebrity just yesterday? But it didn't matter to Tyree. Thanks to that one play, he was able to put a successful cap on his career.
"It gave me a sense of peace (about) moving on," Tyree said.
And now it's been four years. Four years since Eli Manning threw up that prayer that was answered. Four years for him to get used to life after football. To hear him talk, you sense he's telling the truth about his career. About the peace part of it. And he should be OK with it. His is a legend that will continue to grow as time rolls on. My kids will grow up thinking of Tyree's catch the way I thought of Lynn Swann's catch against the Cowboys. Tyree is immortal. That's just how it goes. But the history that gets Tyree excited right now? It's that his team is back in the big game after their dramatic win over the 49ers.
"I might have been just as speechless as I was when we won the Super Bowl four years ago," he said. "To actually see this thing coming to fruition. I don't think anything happens by accident. We've always got the storylines of what happened four years ago. You can look at revenge. You can look at the progression."
Speechless? Speechless like he was after "The Catch"? Turns out you can take the uniform off the player, but you can't take the player out of the uniform. But unlike four years ago, this time Tyree won't be suiting up. After Super Bowl XLII he did what most Super Bowl stars do: He wrote a book. "More Than Just The Catch" was about his life's journey, and the adversity he faced to get to where he was. But win or lose for the Giants on Sunday, Tyree's hours will be occupied a bit differently than before. Now he spends his days home-schooling his six children. (I have enough on my plate trying to make sure my three-year old daughter doesn't walk out the front door without me knowing it, and he's home-schooling six kids? I just see six kids in a room and I get sweaty and need to leave.) And as if he didn't have enough on his plate with that, he's planning on writing a second book.
But he hasn't been totally out of the headlines, nor without controversy. If you remember, he made a very public stance against same-sex marriage. But not even that seems to have dampened his iconic status. Last summer, while New York was preparing to vote on same-sex marriage rights, Tyree shot a video where he said same-sex marriage would lead to anarchy. If it was allowed, Tyree said, "that will be the moment where our society in itself loses its grip with what's right." He also went on to say he'd trade his catch to keep marriage strictly between a man and a woman.
Whoa, hang on a second. Tyree is weighing in on same-sex marriage? He's willing to put his reputation on the line for a stance that's a third rail for anyone who talks about it publicly? While you can debate if he really would trade the catch (no way), and debate your beliefs, you have to give Tyree credit for standing up for something that could have made him wildly unpopular because he believed in it. Who would want to risk that? But Tyree did. And now, six months later, the controversy surrounding his statements has died down, and once again, he's David Tyree, Super Bowl hero. It could have ruined him, but it hasn't.
And now here they are again, the Giants and the Patriots. And Tyree, with yet another interesting postscript to his life. Prior to the NFC Championship Game, he helped light up the Empire State Building to celebrate the Giants before they took on San Francisco, but it didn't go the way it was supposed to. When they turned the lights on, instead of the blue ones everyone was expecting, the ESB was lit up in red and gold -- 49ers colors. It was explained they were chosen to help represent the colors of the Lunar New Year. Oops. Seriously, there was no one to fact check that before you throw the switch? No one to say, "Hey, just for grins and giggles, someone check what the 49ers uniforms look like. Just to be safe." Eventually it was fixed, but that turn of events surprised everyone.
But maybe that was actually fitting, because Tyree's career, and his legacy, didn't go nearly according to any plan we could have seen.