THIS YEAR'S MIRACLE

Just as in the Arizona desert in XLII, the Giants' final, decisive touchdown drive hinged on a catch that tested the limits of belief
February 13, 2012

Three days before the Super Bowl, Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham asked offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride if they could talk for a few minutes. Manningham wanted to discuss the role of the receivers against the Patriots, and he was blunt. "We feel we can win this game," the fourth-year wideout said. "You have to understand—we're not nervous. We're excited. The stage is definitely not too big for us."

Clearly the receivers had heard about the game plan: Coach Tom Coughlin was dead serious about running as much as he could, to bleed the clock and keep the ball away from the potent Patriots attack. Gilbride assured Manningham he believed in him and fellow wideouts Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, even though none had played in a Super Bowl before. And as the game progressed, Gilbride proved it. Eli Manning did too. With just under four minutes left, on the first play of the drive that would be the Giants' last chance of the game, Gilbride called for Nicks and Cruz to line up to the right and run intermediate routes, while Manningham set up to the left and ran a deep go—unless a safety came over the top, at which point Manningham would cut off the route and immediately look for the ball along the sideline. Safety Patrick Chung did come to Manningham's side on the play, but Manning had already decided to make the throw there. "That was a major surprise," said backup quarterback David Carr. "That's not a throw he's made in practice or a game on that play all season."

So here came the ball, raining over corner Sterling Moore and under the onrushing safety. The ball landed in Manningham's arms as he was clubbed out-of-bounds by the defenders and tried to get both feet to tap the green turf. "As soon as the ball hit my hands, I just froze my feet to make sure they hit fair," said Manningham. "Good thing I wear size 11. If I wore 11½, I'd have been out-of-bounds."

Gain of 38. Amazing throw. Amazing catch. And less than three minutes later the Giants scored the go-ahead touchdown, the points that gave New York the Super Bowl.

This was the play of the day, a ball that never should have been thrown and probably shouldn't have been caught. It conjured memories of another historic throw-and-catch, on the game-deciding drive of the Giants' 17--14 Super Bowl win over the Patriots four years earlier. David Tyree, who'd made that reception and was a guest in Indy, wasn't buying it. "I'm just a guy who had a moment in NFL history," Tyree said. "This guy's got a real career."

"It was just a catch," Manningham said. "Just a catch, man. I understand what you're saying, but he caught his off his helmet. I just made a catch."

Gilbride's belief in his receivers was evident in the numbers: The three wideouts combined for 19 receptions, 207 yards and one of the Giants' two touchdowns. On the field after the game, Gilbride and Manningham shared an emotional five-second embrace.

"You knew," Gilbride told Manningham. "You foreshadowed it."

"We did it," Manningham said. "We did it. We did it."

"I FROZE MY FEET TO MAKE SURE THEY HIT FAIR," SAID MANNINGHAM. "GOOD THING I WEAR SIZE 11, NOT 11½."

PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIER (CATCH)ON THE LINE The Giants planned to focus on the ground game to keep the ball away from Brady, but in the final minutes Manningham found the title in his hands.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)