WAYNE, N.J. -- A few days before making perhaps the greatest reception in
Super Bowl history, David Tyree could not catch a break.
"A bad day for a receiver in practice is probably to drop two balls," Tyree recalled. "I don't know what kind of day I had because I probably dropped five or six."
When Tyree finally held onto one of Eli Manning's passes, his teammates mocked him with a standing ovation.
On Feb. 3, 2008, at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Giants' cheers for Tyree's snares were heartfelt.
First, Tyree caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Manning to give the Giants an early fourth-quarter lead. But it was his leaping, hands-clasped-in-prayer, football-atop-helmet snare of a Manning third-down heave that made Tyree a Super Bowl legend. The 32-yard gain kept the game-winning drive alive in the Giants' 17-14 upset of the Patriots.
"I never said that I was the best receiver or, you know, the greatest receiver," the now-retired Tyree, 31, recalled one morning last August in his New Jersey home. He works primarily with the International Children's Support Foundation these days.
"I felt like I was the guy [who], when given the opportunity, was going to make the play."
Tyree's improbable reception -- he calls it "Catch-42" in reference to the 42nd Super Bowl and the kind of coverage the Patriots deployed against the Giants' four-receiver set -- came with Patriots safety Rodney Harrison grappling with him. The catch gave the Giants a first down at the Patriots' 24 with 59 seconds to play.
Four plays and 24 seconds later, Manning found receiver Plaxico Burress for the winning touchdown pass.
While Manning earned the game MVP trophy, perhaps Tyree best personified the Giants that night in Glendale, Ariz.
Coach Tom Coughlin's team began the 2007 regular season 0-2, had to win three NFC playoff games on the road as a wild card, and entered the Super Bowl as a 12-point underdog.
Tyree was an underdog too. He overcame a March 2004 arrest for drug possession to salvage his life on and off the field, surviving in the NFL on his special-teams skills. Still, he began the 2007 season rehabbing a fractured wrist. In December of that season, he would lose his mother, Thelma, to a heart attack.
Tyree entered the Super Bowl with only four regular-season receptions. Two of those came in the Giants' 38-35 Week 17 loss to the Patriots -- the game that capped New England's historic 16-0 run.
During Super Bowl practice week, Burress was on the sidelines rehabbing an injury. Tyree wasn't inspiring confidence as Burress' replacement.
But even after his many drops, Tyree had the confidence of the teammate who mattered most, Manning.
During the practice, "I probably approached him just to let him know, 'Hey man, you know I'll be ready,'" Tyree recalled. "And even before I could finish my sentence, he said, 'Don't worry about none of that. You know I'm coming at you.'"
Tyree rewarded Manning's faith with three catches for 43 yards and a score. The biggest grab came after Manning's remarkable escape from Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas' clutches.
The catch still stupefies Harrison, then a feared Pro Bowl safety who now is an analyst for NBC's "Sunday Night Football" coverage.
"I couldn't believe it. I was devastated because I'm like, I did everything in my power," Harrison told ESPN.com recently after watching another replay.
"I know I'm stronger than this guy, I'm bigger than this guy, I'm a physical guy. I feel like that's my job is to separate players from the ball and, normally, 99 percent of the time that happens."
Said Tyree of the struggle with Harrison for the ball: "I can't remember if he got his hand on it -- I know he did a great job, you know. All I know is but for a split second that I had two fingers two hands on the ball.
"And only for a split second there, and he came in and just completely dislodged one hand from the football. And at that point. everything in me was just saying, 'I'm not letting this ball go.'"
Even years later, watching the last catch of his career stirs Tyree's emotions -- minus the tears he shed after the game.
"You experience joy, you experience the the pain of knowing I lost my mom months prior, she couldn't be there to share it with me," Tyree said.
"Just the overwhelming happiness, the peace, knowing that you know, this was a moment that I probably couldn't have imagined, and it's probably not going to get much better than this."
Tyree's heroics helped make him a regular guest on national television talk shows. He published his life story and started a ministry, which he pursues now in addition to other business ventures.
Injuries cost him the 2008 season and hindered a 2009 stint as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. He retired as a Giant in July 2010 after seven NFL seasons. At this year's Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas, Tyree -- in conjunction with ICF -- will work with the group Xperience Outreach which will stage various youth camps.
Before he starred at Syracuse University and became a 2003 Giants' sixth-round draft choice, Tyree grew up in Montclair, N.J., just minutes away from the Meadowlands. The helmet he wore to make the miracle catch in Super Bowl XLII was donated to the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center at Montclair State University.
Tyree has kept the football he caught for the score that helped give the Giants a 10-7 lead with 11:10 to play in the fourth period.
But where is the football he famously pinned to his helmet, eventually inches from the turf? Tyree believes that the ball stayed in play during the rest of the Giants' two-minute drill to overcome the Patriots' 14-10 lead.
"You know, that is the question of all questions," Tyree said, chuckling.
He speculates that it's part of Burress' collection. Tyree remains friends with Burress, who in June 2011 is expected to complete a prison sentence for accidentally shooting himself in the leg while in a Manhattan nightclub in November 2008.
"I'm saying Plaxico Buress got a two-for-one deal and that is probably the hottest football on the market right now, you know, so I am thinking he's got it.
"Maybe I could trade him my touchdown ball for his ball."
Sheldon Spencer is an NFL editor at ESPN.com.