by Brian Burnsed
IU Super Bowl Student News Bureau
An unheralded receiver made a brilliant catch late in the fourth quarter. The New York Giants won the Super Bowl soon after.
This story has been told before.
Mario Manningham caught a mere 39 balls this season in the long shadows cast by talented teammates Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. But in the brightest spotlight, he snatched Eli Manning’s 38-yard fourth-quarter strike out of the air, clinging to it like it was the Lombardi Trophy itself, as he tapped both feet in bounds at the 50 on the left sideline.
“I knew I had to freeze my feet when the ball touched my fingertips,” he said. “There’s no pressure. Its football, except you have a little bit more people watching.”
Manningham’s improbable snag evokes the game-saving 32-yard catch that former Giants receiver David Tyree made against the Patriots late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII. Both men were single-covered. Both men were overshadowed by more talented teammates. Both men made catches that catalyzed a Giants comeback win.
But the similarities stop there.
Tyree made a catch that defied logic. Maningham’s was born of savvy adjustments by Giants coaches.
Manning found Tyree only after narrowly avoiding a sack and making a desperation heave. Manning found Manningham on an expertly timed throw.
Tyree was an unexpected target on a broken play. Manningham, however, anticipated the ball was coming his way.
Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride had taken note that the Patriots safeties, who’d been playing in a two-deep zone all game, were starting to shade towards Nicks and Cruz, who’d been feasting on the Patriots soft coverage. The pair combined for 14 catches and 134 yards.
“I told the quarterback that the two high were rolling,” Gilbride said. “It was pretty obvious…when you looked at the pictures (on the sideline) you could see that they were moving in that direction.”
That left Manningham alone against Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore. As Patrick Chung, the safety on Manningham’s side of the field, drifted right towards Cruz and Nicks, Manning launched a ball deep down the left sideline. Manningham beat Moore to the 50. Chung, attention diverted, was a step late.
“I put that on myself,” Moore said. “I knew eventually they would figure it out and test me.”
Manningham caught two more balls on that drive for 18 more yards. He’d been penciled in as the Giants number two receiver behind Nicks prior to the season, but was quickly overtaken by the explosive Cruz, who went on to become the Giants leading receiver.
Nevertheless, Manningham’s teammates had faith he’d perform during the comeback drive that sealed the championship, and trusted he’d win his one-on-one matchup with Moore.
“We knew what he was capable of doing,” Nicks said. “We never doubted him.”