There is no better or more succinct way to convey so many emotions than with the simple name of a formerly anonymous wide receiver on the New York Giants. Sunday night I both sent and received text messages that said nothing but “david tyree.” I had a conversation with a man in a bar that consisted entirely of varying inflections of the words “David” and “Tyree.” I claimed that my middle name was an homage to David Tyree.
On Sunday morning it was just a name. By nightfall it was a concept. It was a Successories poster. It was proof that helmets can fill in for left hands and “wanting it more” is not just a cliché.
As in, He Did Not Just Do That. They Did Not Just Do That. Oh My God. Oh My God. We Could Actually WIN. Impossible is nothing. Pi equals 7. Newton was wrong. Pigs can fly. Somebody start TiVoing this.
It wasn’t just David Tyree, either. Third and five was a miracle in two acts, and Eli Manning was the star of Act One, playing the role of Houdini. Manning was sacked by Adalius Thomas, then Richard Seymour, then Jarvis Green. Only he wasn’t. He ducked and dipped and lunged. He evaded. Thomas forced him to step up in the pocket, where Seymour and Green were waiting. They both got a handful of jersey. Then, somehow, he got away.
(The replays shed no light on Eli’s escape. I’ve watched it on YouTube at least 10 times, and I still don’t understand how he did it. One must simply accept it as fact.)
In a sport in which the action takes place in short spurts between long intervals of downtime, spectators — whether at the event or on the couch — seldom speak while a play is unfolding. But when Manning extricated himself from certain doom (about six seconds into the 11-second play), I shouted “He’s out!” with as much optimism as disbelief. I knew that when quarterbacks buy time in the pocket, coverage breaks down. The advantage swings further in the quarterback’s favor with every second he has to survey a defense, every second the defense has to cover the receivers. It’s why we count Mississippi’s in touch football.
But there was no open man this time. There was just David Tyree, surrounded by as many Patriots as Eli was. He and Rodney Harrison, one of the fiercest hitters in football, went up for the jump ball: A reserve wide receiver who was once named an All-Pro for his work on special teams vs. a safety who has been an All-Pro four times for his work as a safety. Tyree got both hands on it, Harrison one. The force of Harrison’s swat knocked Tyree’s left hand loose, but not the ball. Falling to the turf on top of Harrison in an awkward yoga contortion, Tyree clutched the ball with three fingertips and his helmet before restabilizing it with his left hand. It never jiggled.
“Some things just don’t make sense. I guess you could put that catch up there with those,” he said after the game.
ESPN’s Bill Simmons, the self-appointed conscience of the American sports fan (and die-hard Patriots devotee), recognized the significance of the play but didn’t have time to entitle it before publishing his weepy, early-Monday dispatch. He left it as: “Miracle Play To Be Named Later,” which still seems to be the best we can do to describe a play that included two of the most improbable acts in Super Bowl history.
I’m generally too cynical to completely submit myself to my teams and feel all of the rhythms of the long seasons. As a practical matter, it’s healthy not to define nirvana as a championship that your team has a 1 in 32 chance of winning at the start of each season; it can lead to stress. I also tend to believe that the doctrine of Sports as Catharsis leads to a life of meaninglessness — even if it prompts ESPN zealots to “question my fanhood.”
But David Tyree’s catch in Super Bowl XLII was one of those sports moments that is to an inherently detached fan what wedge issues are to voters: It laid bare just how partisan, just how viscerally involved I really was.
Late Sunday night, watching the looping highlights of No. 85’s touchdown catch and miracle catch in a bar filled with No. 10 and No. 17 Giants jerseys, a friend suggested he was going to buy a Tyree jersey as soon as we got home. It dawned on me that Tyree, once a cult favorite among Giants fans — particularly me and my brother, who had identified him as a potential steal the moment the Giants drafted him out of Syracuse in the sixth round of the 2003 draft — no longer belonged to us.
He was a Super Bowl legend now, a name for pop culture trivia and NFL Films programs and motivational speeches about how the underdog sometimes has his day.
Who better to slay Goliath?