Commentary

The forgotten man of Super Bowl XLII

If Jarvis Green sacks Eli Manning, David Tyree never makes catch -- it still haunts him

Updated: February 1, 2012, 5:40 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

The howl of the crowd was ear-splitting anyway from the snap of the ball. But now the roar was crescendoing even louder because the Giants' pass protection was breaking down and Super Bowl XLII was on the line. Jarvis Green, then a New England Patriots defensive end, can still remember the feel of Eli Manning's jersey in his hand right then, and the way he kept pulling on it until it seemed the fabric might rip as Manning tried desperately to get away.

When you think of NFL players who live in infamy for things they did in title games, Green's name does not tumble off people's lips the way Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood's does, or even safety Rodney Harrison's, Green's teammate on those '07 Pats.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Jason Parkhurst/US PresswireJarvis Green (97) and Richard Seymour (93) had a shot at Eli Manning on that fateful play.

Harrison, now an NBC analyst, is back in the news this week because the Giants and Patriots are playing a rematch of their dramatic Super Bowl clash four years ago.

But Green? He's the least remembered of the four players who were principally involved in the most famous play of the Giants' upset win, which is often called the best Super Bowl ever played.

He knows only sheer luck has prevented him from receiving the same attention that Harrison does for being 30 yards downfield that day, and isolated on Giants receiver David Tyree when Tyree leaped and pinned a long desperation pass from Manning on his helmet for a 32-yard catch that set up Manning's game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with just 35 seconds left to play.

Had Tyree's acrobatic catch been merely pedestrian instead of one of the all-time great grabs in Super Bowl history, Manning's escape from Green is what people would've remembered more.

But the forgotten man in that play can't forget one heart-wrenching detail. Or let himself off the hook.

"I remember that entire game like it happened yesterday," Green said when reached by telephone Tuesday.

What specifically? "That third-and-7 play I didn't make on Eli at the end of the game," Green unsparingly said.

Then he sighed.

When Green began talking again, he might as well have been Norwood reliving his wide right Super Bowl miss for the Bills, or San Francisco 49ers rookie Kyle Williams lamenting how he fumbled twice against the Giants two Sundays ago in the NFC title game.

We're familiar with quarterbacks or field goal kickers taking heat for losing games on climactic, often last-second plays. But a defensive lineman who nominates himself without prompting as the goat in the loss that prevented that 18-0 Pats team from being anointed the best in NFL history, ahead of the '72 Dolphins or '85 Bears or Steelers of the '70s? A man whose only self-professed "crime" was being unable to hold onto the opposing quarterback though a Giants offensive lineman was draped around his own neck like a 300-some-pound millstone, and other bodies were clawing and fighting and colliding and falling down all around him?

Meet Jarvis Green. The forgotten man whose conscience won't allow him to forget what slipped through his hands that day.

"When I first got home [to Louisiana]," Green said, "I couldn't sleep for two or three days. My wife said I was mumbling in my sleep about the game. She might pinch me or hit me to make me stop, and I'd be drenched. Just soaking wet from night sweats. That went on for weeks. I'd call out defensive plays.

"People wanted to interview me right after the game and I said, 'Just give me a little time,' you know? We were going to drive back from Arizona anyway but I wouldn't let anyone else drive because I just wanted to be in control of something, you know? I didn't even get a haircut or do anything for a long time. It was tough. I'd go out to this lake and stand there with my feet in the water and just stare out, thinking things like, 'Man ... think what could've been. How would my life and all our lives be different if I just made that play?' ... I was having a good game 'til that point. I had a sack, maybe four or five tackles. We all had so much riding as a team. If I make that play, that game is over. We make NFL history. And I'm the one that should've been going to Disney World."

Harrison said he has watched the entire game tape of the Patriots' Super Bowl loss to the Giants exactly once. But Green and Pats quarterback Tom Brady said they haven't seen it to this day. Nor is Green tempted to watch it.

Green knows the Manning-to-Tyree replay has been playing on a sort of continuous tape loop the past four years -- never more so than this week -- and he said, "If it comes on TV, I still change the channel. Or I get up and leave the room. There used to be a Gatorade commercial of the play and all you see of me is my hand reaching out toward Eli.

"I couldn't watch it."

Why would he? Green said he studied film of Manning to prepare for every eventuality before their Super Bowl game. Like a lot of the current Giants, who have teased Manning about not being a "real" athlete after he bragged about the 14-yard scamper he made in the Giants' playoff win against Atlanta or a run block Manning tried to throw ("a chicken wing," defensive end Justin Tuck called his technique) in the Giants' upset playoff win in Green Bay, Green wasn't blown away by Manning's escapability then, either.

"I remember watching film of him [against pass-rushers] and thinking, 'He seems to go down easy,'" Green said, his voice betraying that he knows how ironic that sounds now. "But on that day, you know, for everybody the Super Bowl is an all-out war. That pass play to Tyree was such a long, loooong play -- maybe eight seconds. And it was all in front of me. So I saw the whole thing.

"I actually thought I had Eli twice," Green continued. "There was a lot of grabbing, moving, twisting, clawing going on -- I mean, it was bad -- but I still managed to slide off the block enough to get Eli's jersey in my hand. Then he somehow backed out. And I saw the ball go up. And it was like slow motion. It was like paint drying. That's how long it hung up there.

"I just remember turning around and watching the ball. And of course, at that point, you can't hear anything on the field. Not really. You're not aware of any noise. I just remember seeing that ball going through the air ... and going through the air. It seemed like it took forever to come down. And then just, 'Oh my goodness.'"

That's when the crowd's roar came rushing back into Green's ears like an explosion of white noise. A wall of sound.

"'David Tyree caught that?'" Green said to himself, dumbfounded.

"I was shell-shocked. ... Just shaken," Green admitted.

He wasn't the only one.

Green, now 33, had already won two rings with New England and he eventually left as a free agent to sign in 2010 with Denver, where he now lives. He hurt a knee, said he still needs spinal fusion surgery on his back, and swore his three-week stint with the Houston Texans in December was his NFL swan song.

He has just gone into the energy business with some partners, and they're hoping to tap into the oil boom in North Dakota. His wife is studying in Lyon, France, right now to sharpen her chops as a pastry chef, so he plans to watch Sunday's game with their three kids. His eldest is about to turn 14 -- old enough to remember that Super Bowl four years ago, but perhaps still too young to fully absorb his dad's pain or his strong rooting interest this Sunday.

New England coach Bill Belichick and the eight Super Bowl XLII holdovers who still play for the Pats have steadily insisted that revenge for their '08 loss won't leak into this rematch against the Giants. But a lot of ex-Pats have publicly agreed with Harrison, who said: "There will be a revenge factor. Trust me."

When asked if he can explain the sharp difference of opinions, Green laughed.

"All the guys who agree with Rodney are the ones who can't go out and hit somebody in the mouth this Sunday," Green joked.

Or maybe he was only half-joking.

New England may indeed avenge that '08 title loss to the Giants.

But Super Bowl XLII's forgotten man may never, ever forget.

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