The date is February 3rd, 2008. The site is University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona (nearly ten years before the venue came to be known as State Farm Stadium). The New England Patriots are playing in their fourth Super Bowl in six years against the New York Giants, a Wildcard team in the NFC.
It wasn’t just the halftime act of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that drew a sold-out 70,000+ crowd. The Patriots were having the greatest campaign an NFL team has ever had in the league’s 88-year history up to that point. The 18-0 New England Patriots, favoured by 12 in the pre-game odds, should have become the 19-0 Patriots, having achieved just the second undefeated season after the 1972 Dolphins and the only ever to win 18 games in a season.
New England’s power offence was unstoppable. Tom Brady was having a historic season, throwing 50 touchdowns with just 8 interceptions during the 2007 NFL regular season. But every good quarterback has his top receiver (except Brady for the better part of his career). Future Hall of Famer Randy Moss recorded 1,493 yards through the air. He and Wes Welker led a powerful air raid heard ’round the league. The Patriots scored 593 points, which remains a record to this day.
Brady himself was entering his fourth appearance in the Big Game. He won the first three, against the Rams, Panthers, and Eagles, and was already heading towards a historic status of a future Hall of Famer. Little did the NFL know he had even more left in the tank. But Super Bowl XLII wasn’t what he had hoped for in the chase for a fourth ring.
Bill Belichick’s defence, arguably the cornerstone of the whole run of domination alongside Brady, also gets its nod. The Patriots allowed the fourth-fewest points per game, as well as the fourth-fewest yards per game. Mike Vrabel posted career-high 12.5 sacks in his only year with 10+ sacks. He would some thirteen years later remind the Patriots of his genius, this time on the coaching side, leading to the end of the Brady-Belichick dynasty. As a Tennessee Titans head coach, nothing less.
The Patriots, with the help of their five Pro Bowlers, didn’t just win out in the regular season – they crushed the competition. New England’s winning margin was as little as one possession just four times out of 16 games. Postseason meetings didn’t provide much more drama in wins against the Jaguars and the Chargers to secure a place for the Super Bowl.
You just read the story of a dominant force that makes football games nightmarish for the public audience. A first-class flight attendant compared to everyone else, middle-class workers, whose work is never enough to reach Goliath’s excellence. David’s story, though. What a story it was set to be, and one name is more associated with it than others, surprisingly. His name, just like his 2007 performance, will shine later on in the article.
Tom Brady was nearly perfect. Giants QB Eli Manning was just the opposite. Eli was inconsistent during the 2007 season, playing to a 23-20 TD/Int. ratio. Both the offence and the defence were near the middle of the pack. Their passing defence was so mediocre that they allowed 3,317 yards, more than the amount Eli threw for the year (3,154).
The defensive side of the ball sought a legend to end his career in an honourable manner. Michael Strahan would go on to finish his career sixth all-time in sacks with 141.5. He also entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014, in addition to becoming one of the best-known figures involved in NFL on FOX broadcasts. In 2007, he recorded 9 sacks in what turned out to be his last year in the league.
The Giants had also lost the regular season between the two teams, 38-35 in Week 17. However, that didn’t stop Eli and company from going all-in during postseason play. Three wins on the road. A divisional round winning effort against arch-rivals Dallas Cowboys. In the NFC Championship, they defeated the Packers in overtime thanks to Plaxico Burress‘s 141 yards in catches. Burress provided an instrumental effort in the Giants’ 2007 run, recording 1,025 yards as the only NYG WR with 1,000+ yards.
There they were – two teams, destined for different destinations, were to battle it all out in the Super Bowl. This game was to show, yet again, why the situational character of playoff football was willing to provide the most absurd of miracles. It definitely did this time.
The all-time great Pats offence wasn’t there. Apart from a 103-yard day by Wes Welker, it wasn’t pretty. Both quarterbacks had a passer rating in the 85-90.0 range. Out of everyone who could have turned up, the Giants defence decided to be the sensation. The same unit that was 17th in fewest points allowed during regular-season play.
Just like that, here we are. Fourth quarter, 14-10 New England, 3rd down & 5. As Joe Buck said: “It was caught by Tyree”.
The infamous “Helmet Catch” was born after NE safety Rodney Harrison was unable to stop David Tyree from keeping the ball alive, thanks to his helmet. If I were to say that it “defined a generation of Giants football”, it would be a cliche. But it did make the Giants the most lovable underdog story of the 2000s, as well as the Patriots’ biggest obstacle on the grandest stage of them all.
Three plays later, Eli Manning threw his second TD pass of the evening to Burress. Now that we know the outcomes of the two Manning-Brady Super Bowls, this play alone has so much meaning to it. It set up one of the biggest storylines in the history of the game. It helped establish the career of Eli Manning, a Hall of Fame hopeful and, no doubt, a Giants legend. Most importantly, it helped revive the Giants as a relevant franchise.
Tyree had just 4 receptions for 35 yards that year. He finished his career with 650 combined yards from 83 games (5 starts). Yet, under the brightest of lights, he outplayed guys like Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
The New York Giants’ third Super Bowl championship is perhaps the sweetest victory in their history. The 2007 team wasn’t a legacy team nor a strong one at all. Yet, by taking its chances, they shook up the NFL landscape, setting up a path that wasn’t as easy as the almighty Patriots had hoped. It didn’t end the Pats dynasty. However, it did mark the end of Era 1, and Era 2 was way more competitive and problematic for the Patriots. Eli Manning, David Tyree, and the infamous Helmet Catch made that possible.