The Helmet Catch

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Posted: November 5, 2017


Over the years, Tom Brady and his New England Patriots have had little joy against the Manning brothers. Eli Manning helped orchestrate one of the most famous scalps against the New England Patriots, during Super Bowl XLII on February 3, 2008. During that game, Manning escaped three tackles from New England defenders and then threw a pass forward which was caught by receiver David Tyree, who was making a rare start. Tyree pinned the ball against his helmet, to help maintain possession and gain 32 yards for the New York Giants. The Giants who had been trailing 14-10 would then score a touchdown four plays later to win the game 17-14.

Buildup to the Helmet Catch

Coming into the game, much of the attention was directed at David Tyree, the Giants’ number 4 receiver getting a start despite having a less than stellar season. He only had four catches the entire regular season, but injury to tight end Jeremy Shockey left the Giants with few options in terms of replacements. The Patriots had had a superb regular season, finishing with a 16-0 record, the first since 1978. They also had a host of records including most season total points (589), and 75 total touchdowns. Much of this success rode on the back of Tom Brady’s excellent season statistics, which included 4806 passing yards and a then NFL record of 50 touchdown passes.

In the playoffs, the Patriots had defeated the Jackson Jaguars and the San Diego Chargers respectively, meaning they had won all their games in the season. The Giants on the other hand had qualified for the playoffs through a wild card fixture after finishing the season with a 10-6 record. During their final game of the regular season, the Giants had lost narrowly 38-35 to the Patriots, and this cemented their status as underdogs heading for the Super Bowl clash. In the Giants ranks was Eli Manning, younger brother to Peyton Manning, the legendary quarterback widely considered the only true active rival and a kryptonite to Brady’s Magic. Eli was himself a great quarterback, but was not enjoying the best of seasons up to that point.

The game started in slow fashion, with the teams heading into the fourth quarter with the Patriots leading 7-3 thanks to a 32-yard field goal from Lawrence Tynes, which was answered by a 1-yard touchdown from Lawrence Maroney. In the fourth quarter, Eli Manning threw a pass to David Tyree for a touchdown, which gave the Giants a 10-7 lead before Tom Brady responded with a 6-yard pass of his own to Randy Moss to help New England regain the lead. The 1:15 left on the clock, and the Giants still trailing 14-10, they faced a third and five on their own 44-yard line.

From the resulting play, Manning dropped back and was immediately surrounded by a sea of battling bodies, almost getting sacked by several desperate crutches from Patriots defenders. Incredibly, he managed to spin away from the challenges and threw a desperation pass towards Tyree in the middle of the field. Tyree made a leap for the ball, with Patriots defender Samuel Harrison making offering stiff challenge. Tyree caught the ball with both hands but Samuel hacked one of his hands away from the ball forcing Tyree to press the ball against his helmet in order to avoid losing possession. As the two opponents tumbled to the ground, Tyree held the ball still pressed to his helmet and eventually fell on top of Harrison.

The play gave the Giants a 32-yard gain and a first down, with 58 seconds left. The Giants called timeout and upon resumption of the game, took just four plays Eli Manning sent a 13-yard throw to Plaxico Burress in the corner of the end zone, for a touchdown. The Giants had leaped into a 17-14 lead, and with the seconds running out, the Patriots had no time to respond.

Aftermath of the Helmet Catch

After the game various new outlets ran campaigns to find suitable nicknames for the play. Some of the names that emerged include “Catch-42,” “The E-mmaculate Connection” and “The Double Miracle” among others. Columnist Bill Simmons proposed the nickname “Helmet Catch” and as time went by, it became the most popular option. The Giants and the Patriots would meet again in Super Bowl XLVI in 2012 after Manning and Hakeem Nicks had combined for a catch that was very similar to Tyree’s, in the 2012 NFC Divisional Playoff game. The Giants would again beat the Patriots 21-17, yet another Manning win over Tom Brady.

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