A Date To Remember is an occasional series Big Blue View will be running through the Super Bowl, highlighting the glory of the Giants’ past and celebrating the biggest playoff wins in franchise history.
A Palpable Feeling of Anger
Feb. 3, 2008
Super Bowl XLII
Giants 17, Patriots 14
The edge in his voice appeared without warning.
It carried over the phone line from London, traveling across the Atlantic and five time zones.
Osi Umenyiora’s light and friendly tone shifted at the mere mention of the narrative entering Super Bowl XLII.
Suddenly he was back in the first week of February 2008. And Umenyiora was seriously pissed off.
The days leading up to the game felt like a coronation for the undefeated New England Patriots. But they felt like an insult to Umenyiora and the Giants.
When the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end thinks about that week, about a Patriots victory that was considered all but assured, one definitive memory arises for him.
“I remember anger. There was a palpable feeling of anger,” Umenyiora told Big Blue View from his home in London, where he serves as an NFL ambassador to the United Kingdom. “The things that we had done to get to that point, nobody gave us credit for. It was like, ‘You guys are lambs being led to the slaughter. The New England Patriots are just going to steamroll you.’
“For them to think that New England was just going to run over us, it was insulting.”
The Patriots were all but crowned champions and the greatest team of all-time.
No one gave the Giants a chance. No one but the Giants themselves.
Then something unexpected happened. Their pass rush battered Tom Brady.
Eli Manning made “The Escape” and David Tyree made “The Catch” — the crucial components of the most iconic play in Super Bowl history.
And after Tyree pinned the Manning pass to his helmet, Plaxico Burress then backed up his bold prediction of a Giants victory — and quieted a smug Brady — with a touchdown reception on the game-winning drive.
Giants 17, Patriots 14.
So much for 19-0.
“When things get tight and you have to rely on the guy next to you, nobody folded. Nobody flinched,” kicker Lawrence Tynes told Big Blue View. “We were so confident to be honest. I don’t know where it came from.
“But when we got into both of those playoffs [in 2007 and 2011], I almost knew we were going to win it.”
It started with the Giants’ suffocating pass rush, which sacked Brady a season-high five times and hit him at least nine times.
The 2007 Giants pulled off maybe the greatest postseason run in NFL history, winning three road games to get to the Super Bowl: beating Tampa Bay, the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys and then Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers in subzero temperatures.
So the Patriots — undefeated or not — did not scare them.
“We beat the best team in football in my opinion that year in the Dallas Cowboys. And then we went to Green Bay and beat them in the weather,” Umenyiora said. “We weren’t going to be pushed around by anybody.”
A team of destiny did win Super Bowl XLII that night in Glendale, Az.
But the MVP quarterback was Manning, not Brady. The genius game plan game was authored by Tom Coughlin, not Bill Belichick.
And the player who made the biggest play was an unknown, even to many Giants fans.
It wasn’t supposed to happen.
The Patriots were a star-studded juggernaut.
Brady in his prime. Belichick cementing his legacy as a coaching genius. Moss frightening cornerbacks with his speed and hands. Then there was Junior Seau. Rodney Harrison. Vince Wilfork.
Many were calling the Patriots the best NFL team ever, or at least, the best since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
New England was playing in its fourth Super Bowl in seven years.
It set an NFL record in scoring 589 points that season. Brady threw a then-record 50 touchdown passes. And Moss broke Jerry Rice’s receiving record with 23 touchdowns.
The Patriots were 18-0. Many thought 19-0 was a fait accompli.
And the Giants? They were 12½-point underdogs. Only two of them, Strahan and Amani Toomer, had experienced playing in Super Bowl XXXV seven years earlier.
”They were 18-0 or whatever they were, and we were the first or second biggest underdogs of all-time,” Tynes said.
But defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo saw a vulnerability in his film study. Brady could be rattled. The machine could be slowed if you disrupted the quarterback.
The key? Hit him.
Two other factors were almost as critical: prevent the big play, so limit completions to less than 20 yards, and confuse Brady by disguising the pre-snap alignment of the safeties.
”At one point in the week I said, ‘It doesn’t matter if we stop him from throwing it or not. Let’s just make sure that we hit him,’” Spagnuolo said in 2018. “The hope was we could frustrate him a little bit.”
And that was exactly the game plan.
Get to Brady. Disrupt him. Flush him from the pocket or at least make him move within it.
“We arrived there with this feeling, ‘We’re really going to make our presence known. We’re going to take advantage of our strength — the defensive line — on what we thought was their weakness, which was their offensive line. We’re going to impose our will on them,’” Umenyiora said.
So the Giants turned Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Umenyiora, Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield loose to manhandle and harass Brady for 60 minutes.
”You have to rattle him,” Tuck said in 2018. “There are different ways to do that: You can sack him, you can knock him down, you can have him moving his feet a lot.
”Sometimes we didn’t get to him, but we had people falling at his feet. He was never — or not often — allowed to be comfortable. That messes with quarterbacks, especially when they are used to being comfortable.”
That unit was capable of doing it.
It was so strong, Tuck wasn’t even a starter in 2007, despite posting 10 sacks, 65 tackles and 16 tackles for loss. And the Giants played the Super Bowl without Mathias Kiwanuka, who broke his left leg in November.
Those pass rushers were angry.
It wasn’t just the hype surrounding the Patriots that set them off.
Brady gave them a gift — the gift of motivation.
Burress had predicted a 21-17 Giants victory a few days before the game. It was gutsy considering New England rallied from a 12-point, third-quarter deficit in Week 17 to beat the Giants at Giants Stadium, 38-35.
But when the media told Brady, the quarterback actually scoffed on camera.
”We’re only going to score 17 points?” Brady said, then chuckled sarcastically. “OK. Is Plax playing defense? I wish he had said 45-42 and gave us a little credit for scoring more points.”
The defensive line, already angry, was now seething.
“In my mind, in Strahan’s mind, in Tuck’s mind, in the minds of all the defensive linemen, we knew that if we were going to win the game, we were individually going to have to play our best games,” Umenyiora said. “And we went in with that mindset. We went in thinking to ourselves, ‘If we’re going to win, it’s going to be us that’s going to win this game.’ And that’s just how it played out.”
Brady was not in the mood to chuckle when Strahan (one sack), Tuck (two sacks, one forced fumble), Umenyiora (one tackle for loss and one QB hit) and Jay Alford (one sack) were done with him.
Linebacker Kawika Mitchell also registered a sack.
Umenyiora called it “a feeding frenzy.”
The Giants had largely smothered a record-breaking offense.
And some special teamer named Tyree was about to make history.
A young man sat in a jail cell in March 2004.
Stone walls. Steel bars. That was his new reality.
Tyree’s life was unraveling. It had been years in the making.
The drinking that began in middle school had long since gotten out of hand.
He celebrated victories at Montclair (N.J.) High School with Jack Daniel’s whiskey, malt liquor and a blunt. At Syracuse, the partying progressed even further.
Tyree hit bottom less than a year after the Giants made him a sixth-round draft pick in 2003.
The rookie had been fined $10,000 late in the season for repeated lateness. Tyree decided to do some low-level dealing as a sideline and make up the money.
Then he was pulled over in Fort Lee, N.J. for speeding and driving with a broken tail light. He was arrested when police found a half-pound of marijuana in the car.
He sat in that cell in the Bergen County Jail with plenty of time to think.
The morning Tyree was released, his girlfriend, Leilah, told him she was pregnant with their second son and gave him an ultimatum.
Life with her or life without her.
”What looked to be the lowest point in my life ended up being the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” Tyree said in 2008.
The Catch might have been a miracle.
But it was not his greatest miracle.
Tyree cleaned up. He found God. He married Leilah. And he carved a niche for himself as an elite special teams player, earning a trip to the 2005 Pro Bowl.
And four years after the arrest, he was still in the NFL, playing in the Super Bowl.
But 2007 was not easy, either.
He began the season rehabbing a broken wrist. Then in December, his mother, Thelma, died of a heart attack at age 59. They had been especially close.
And then the Friday before the game, Tyree — who had only five receptions in 2007 entering Super Bowl XLII — almost guaranteed no pass would be thrown his way.
He endured what he described as the “legendary worst practice in NFL history.”
“Having a bad practice is dropping two balls,” Tyree said in 2017. “I can’t even count how many balls I dropped in that practice.”
Legend has it that he dropped at least six.
But Tyree caught three passes — two of which were huge — in the Super Bowl.
The second reception was a 5-yard touchdown pass from Manning with 11:05 remaining that gave the Giants a 10-7 lead.
But it wasn’t going to be enough to beat the Patriots.
Brady led them on an 80-yard drive that he finished with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Moss with 2:42 remaining.
The Giants took over at their own 17-yard line with 2:39 to go. The season was in Manning’s hands.
They soon faced a fourth-and-1 from the Giants’ 37. Brandon Jacobs muscled for two yards. First down.
Three plays later, they stood at their own 44 in a third-and-5 situation. Manning took the snap, and the protection broke down quickly.
Adalius Thomas beat left tackle David Diehl off the snap and got a right hand full of Manning’s jersey. He escaped by stepping up in the pocket.
But Manning moved right into the arms of Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green. It appeared they were going to bring the quarterback down for a devastating sack.
“I stopped watching,” Umenyiora said. “As soon as they grabbed him, they were pulling him down. I was like, ‘Aw, man.’”
But once again, Manning somehow wrestled away from Seymour and Green and found a patch of space.
Then he heaved a wobbly pass toward Tyree in the middle of the field.
“[Seymour] had a good hold on the jersey, but I was able to somehow sneak away,” Manning said in 2018.
The ball seemed to hang there in the air.
Tyree leaped, both arms extended, and impossibly pinned the ball against his helmet at the Patriots’ 24-yard line. Harrison slammed him to the turf and tried to dislodge the ball.
“I went up with two hands,” Tyree said in 2017. “I felt it with two hands for a second, [then] I knew I lost control with one of my hands. But I’m just thinking in my mind, ‘I got it.’ ”
Umenyiora looked down when he thought Manning was sacked.
He missed The Catch.
“I didn’t actually see Tyree’s part until I looked up at the screen,” he said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘I couldn’t believe he caught that.’
“I mean, Eli’s not that type of quarterback. He’s just not. And so for him to escape that, to show that determination. I was almost like, ‘Man, I have to make this play.’ You could almost hear him saying that to himself, ‘I have to make this play.’ …
“I knew we were going to win after that.”
Four plays later, Burress ran a fade pattern to the left corner of the end zone and beat cornerback Ellis Hobbs. Manning threw a perfect lob for a 13-yard touchdown with 35 seconds remaining.
The helmet Tyree wore in the game resides in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Burress has the ball — it’s the same one Tyree trapped in making “The Catch” and Burress caught for the game-winning score.
“After he made the catch, we kept going. The referees didn’t get the chance to switch the ball out,” Burress said in 2017.
Tyree would make the cover of Sports Illustrated. He appeared on TV talk shows.
But his greatest catch would be his last in the NFL.
A knee injury forced him to the injured reserve list in 2008. The Giants cut him in 2009, and he signed with Baltimore. He played in 10 games, mostly on special teams.
He returned in 2010, signing a one-day contract.
He retired a Giant — and a Super Bowl hero. He now serves as their director of player development.
“It’s the dream scenario,” Tyree said in 2017. “That’s what makes it what it was.”
The 14 points scored were a season-low for New England, which had not posted fewer than 20 in more than 13 months.
Lambs being led to the slaughter?
The Giants used the same formula of Manning and a voracious pass rush in 2011 against New England to similar effect.
But for Umenyiora, the victory over the undefeated 2007 Patriots was far more gratifying.
After all, no one but the Giants believed.
“Beating them the first time was the best. Hands down. It’s not even close,” Umenyiora said. “The second time, we expected to win. The first time, we went in there wanting to win.
“The second time we literally were like, ‘We’re going to beat these guys.’ There was no question in our minds. The first time was just the surprise and the shock of it all, pulling off an upset like that, which is going to be talked about for as long as they talk about the Super Bowl. It was definitely the better feeling.”