Monday, February 04, 2008

Eli Manning to David Tyree and the Immaculate Reception

I was born with a congenital defect - I'm a Giants fan. I'm pretty sure it came on the Y chromosome. Despite years of general apathy about sports, I somehow still get excited about the Giants. I've gotten over the Knicks, the Mets, my college teams, etc. But I still love the Giants.

So tonight I watched the Super Bowl, with the inherent pessimism that comes with being a Giants fan. By the end of the first half, I started to believe. After the Patriots scored their 4th quarter touchdown, I didn't give up. I was thinking there was time on the clock.

During that drive, Eli Manning and David Tyree combined for what may be the greatest sports play I've ever seen. At bottom of this post I've embedded a video of Franco Harris making the "Immaculate Reception" for the Steelers. I don't see a version of the Manning-Tyree play yet that I can embed, but I put a link to the video on nfl.com.

I was surprised by the similarity. In both plays the quarterback is under pressure and escapes it. Manning faced more pressure and was firmly grabbed at least once. On escaping, both rolled to their right. As defenders close in on them, both release the ball, throwing a bit back against their bodies toward the middle of the field, about 20 yards downfield.

In the Steelers play, DB Jack Tatum of the Raiders knocks the ball flying back. Franco Harris grabs it just before it hits the ground -- I remember it being called a "shoestring catch," as the ball was down at shoestring level, or he plucked it off his shoestrings. Then Harris runs the ball in for a touchdown, winning the game.

Tonight, the pass went to David Tyree. Patriots DB Rodney Harrison went up with Tyree. Harrison got a hand on the ball and nearly knocked it away from Tyree. Tyree held the ball against his helmet for a moment, then got his hand back on it as he was falling backward. Harrison bent him over backward slightly but Tyree held onto the ball as he came down with it. It was a truly spectacular catch.

So was it the greatest play in the history of the NFL? It's up there. The Franco Harris play wasn't just a catch - Harris ran it in for a touchdown, winning the game. I think it was also 4th and 10. A lot of factors make tonight's play a bit better though. First, it was in the Super Bowl. Second, there was the drama of the game -- New England being undefeated, the Giants being huge underdogs - though the Steelers game had drama too. Third, Manning faced more pressure and broke free from the firm grip of a big lineman. Fourth, Tyree's catch was far more difficult to execute than the one Harris made.

Nothing against Harris on that - I loved him as a player and it certainly was a great play, but he was lucky the ball went to him. Then again, he didn't quit on the play and deserves credit for staying with it. He was lucky that he was in the right place at the right time, but he helped create that luck by hustling.

Fifth, there was no controversy in tonight's play. In the Immaculate Reception, there are apparently two items of controversy. The Raiders insist that the ball touched the wide receiver (John Fuqua) before it bounced back to Harris. If so, under the rules at the time it should have been ruled an incomplete pass. Also, there is some suggestion that one of the Steelers clipped a Raider on the runback, though this seems like a minor concern. Check out Wikipedia for more on the Immaculate Reception and the controversy surrounding it.

Anyway, the pass from Eli Manning to David Tyree was, at least for me, perhaps the greatest play in NFL history.

I also feel the need to comment on Michael Strahan. Watching the post-game, some guys on ESPN were talking about Strahan. I think someone said something about him being one of the greatest athletes in New York City history. I like Strahan, and agree he is a great player, but Lawrence Taylor was the greatest athlete in New York history, and in my mind the greatest player in the history of the NFL. He changed the game. I saw him do it. I've never heard anyone talk about any other player as changing the game. Every game the announcers would talk about what the offense would do to try to deal with LT. How many times do you watch a football game and all the talk is about how the offense will defend against a defensive player? I remember there was a season where they decided that, since running the ball to the side away from him didn't work because of his pursuit, they would try running the ball at him. That lasted about two weeks.

I mentioned above my pessimism as a Giants fan. It wasn't true when Lawrence Taylor was playing. From the first game I saw him in, I believed they would win. They already had good linebackers and a good defense, but when he showed up they became the best without question.

Anyway, video embed and link to tonight's play, both below.



The video for the play is (for now at least) at: Manning to Tyree.

Try this embed (we'll see if it lasts):



Oh, one last thing. Not much happens these days that makes me think of my dad, who passed away back in 1995. Tonight's game did. I generally don't believe in an afterlife, but if there is one I know he's smiling tonight.
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