Tyree's catch goes down as best play in Super Bowl history

I was sitting around with some people after Super Bowl XLII, talking about the dramatic finish and, in particular, the winning drive. We still were marveling over the catch David Tyree made, leaping high in the air and wrestling the ball away from New England's Rodney Harrison, to keep the drive alive.

Someone said it might go down as the greatest catch in Super Bowl history, better than Max McGee's one-handed stab in Super Bowl I, better than Butch Johnson's tumbling touchdown grab for Dallas in Super Bowl XII, better even than Lynn Swann's balletic leap for Pittsburgh in Super Bowl X.

I took it a step further. I said I thought it was the greatest PLAY in Super Bowl history.

There was a pause as everyone pondered that statement.

The greatest single play? In 42 Super Bowls?

Someone brought up Marcus Allen's 74-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XVIII. Yes, that was spectacular, but Oakland already had the game well in hand. Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goals in Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII? Clutch kicks, certainly, but they didn't make your jaw fall into your lap the way this play did.

I've been to every Super Bowl and I've seen all the big plays dozens of times in slow motion and from every possible angle. Prior to Sunday, I would have ranked the greatest plays as follows:

One, John Riggins' 43-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XVII. It was the game-winning score and it came on a fourth-and-one call. It is one of the classic shots in the NFL Films library; Riggins, all power and purpose, shaking off the last Miami tackler and thundering down the sideline.

Two, Mike Jones' last-second tackle on Kevin Dyson, preserving the St. Louis Rams win over Tennessee in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Three, Joe Montana's touchdown pass to John Taylor, lifting San Francisco to victory in Super Bowl XXIII.

Four, John Elway's daredevil dive for a first down in Denver's upset of Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXII.

Those are all memorable plays. For Riggins and Montana, they are the signature plays of their Hall of Fame careers. But I still believe this play was greater. It made the Giants' 17-14 victory possible and it ended the Patriots' bid for a perfect season. It also defied logic, history, gravity and just about anything else you care to mention.

The play began with Eli Manning facing a third-and-5 at the Giants' 44-yard line. One minute, 15 seconds remained in the game. Manning faded to pass and vanished in a wave of Patriot blitzers. Jarvis Green and Adalius Thomas had him wrapped up, or so it appeared. Somehow, Manning escaped and lofted a desperation pass toward the middle of the field.

Tyree, who played mostly special teams and had only four catches in the regular season, jumped for the ball. Harrison climbed on his back and tried to rip the ball away, but Tyree pinned the football to his helmet, then pulled it in before hitting the ground. It was a 32-yard gain and four plays later, Manning found Plaxico Burress in the end zone for the winning touchdown. It was the play that changed everything.

When you watch this Game of the Week, you will see the play again through the multiple angles of our NFL Films cameras. You still won't understand it -- how Eli Manning suddenly became Fran Tarkenton and how David Tyree learned to fly -- but that only adds to the wonder of it all.

The greatest play in Super Bowl history?

Judge for yourself.

I believe it is.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.