- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- David Tyree stood amid the bedlam of the New York Giants' locker room late Sunday night, talking to reporters about the new version of him -- Mario Manningham. Tyree was approached by a team staffer, who hugged him and exclaimed, "You brought the magic."
There was definitely something in the air because the parallel was uncanny. Four years after Tyree's "Catch 42," Manningham introduced "Super Mario" into the lore of spectacular Super Bowl receptions. Unlike Tyree, Manningham didn't need his helmet, just toes and fingertips.
In a terrific football game that included 133 offensive plays and nearly 750 combined yards, it came down to toes and fingertips. Manningham's 38-yard catch with 3:39 left in the fourth quarter was the longest play in Super Bowl XLVI, and it was the biggest play in the Giants' 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It was breathtaking. It was gutsy. Eli Manning threw a rocket and it came down like a feather, and the Giants were on their way to their fourth Super Bowl title.
"I didn't have much room," Manningham said afterward, meaning the space between his toes and the sideline. "Good thing I wear an 11 [shoe] and not 11½, or else I would've been out."
There's something about these Giants, who have the craziest ability to make plays in the fourth quarter. Once again, it was an unheralded receiver stepping up in the biggest moment, Manningham doing a Tyree, beating the Patriots with a play that will be talked about forever.
"It really is eerie," co-owner John Mara said in the middle of the locker room, shaking his head. "So many things were similar to four years ago."
Manning called it "a big-time play," and it was. But before we get to the artistic beauty of it, you have to appreciate the circumstances. The Patriots neutralized the Giants' vertical passing attack with a two-deep zone that tested Manning's patience, forcing him to throw underneath. He was waiting, waiting all game to take a shot, and he took it on first down, ball at his own 12-yard line, down by two points.
Just before the snap, the Patriots rotated into a two-deep look, with their two safeties dropping into deep "halves." Manning recognized it. Quarterbacks aren't supposed to throw deep sideline routes against a Cover 2 -- too risky -- but Manning looked to his right and didn't see anyone open.
Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks ran corner routes on the strong side, but they were well-covered. Manning did something the great quarterbacks do, using his eyes to freeze the safeties for a nanosecond. That opened the smallest of windows for him to throw to the back side, to throw to Manningham.
"It was Cover 2. Usually, that's not the matchup," Manning said, admitting that what he did went against the Quarterback Handbook.
Technically, it was called a "Cloud 33" coverage by the Patriots. Manningham beat his man at the line, safety Sterling Moore, and ran a "go" route up the left sideline.
Manning dropped back and looked. And looked. The Patriots' Vince Wilfork, the size of a FedEx truck, bull-rushed guard Kevin Boothe. He bull-rushed closer and closer, and got a hand in Manning's face as he launched the ball from the 5.
Forty-five yards later, the ball dropped into Manningham's pleading fingertips. It may have been the best shot in the state of Indiana since Bobby Plump's famous final bucket for Milan High in 1954.
Moore, trailing the play, tomahawk-chopped Manningham's right shoulder pad just as the ball arrived. Safety Patrick Chung, quickly recovering from Manning's eye fake, arrived at full speed and blasted Manningham just as the ball arrived.
Remarkably, Manningham, who had botched a similar chance on the opposite sideline earlier in the game, held on to the ball. He got his left foot down and dragged his right, barely touching the turf with his toes. Patriots coach Bill Belichick challenged the play, but the replay clearly showed those toes grazing the surface.
"I knew I had to freeze my feet when the ball touched my fingertips," Manningham said. "Wherever I was at when the ball hit my fingertips, I just froze my feet and fell. I knew I was either going to get hit or hit the ground. I knew something was going to happen, but I knew that I couldn't let that ball go."
Try that at home. Try a toe-tapping catch when you know you're going to get blindsided. Ain't easy.
"He had both feet down," Chung said. "Good throw, good catch, man."
No, it was a great throw. Try that at home. Try hitting a soda can from 45 yards away. Ain't easy.
"He squoze it in there," said Manningham, using imperfect grammar to describe a perfect play.
It meant everything for the Giants because, just like that, they had field position and time, and they calmly marched to the go-ahead touchdown, Ahmad Bradshaw's 6-yard run with 57 seconds left.
Manningham caught two more passes on the drive, finishing with five receptions for 73 yards -- all in the second half. It was a night of vindication for Manningham, who basically had lost his starting job to Cruz earlier in the season. He was the forgotten receiver, just like Tyree four years ago on that memorable night in Arizona.
"Words can't explain this," he said. "Thank God I had great footwork and thank God for Eli's arm."
When it was over, Tyree stood in the middle of the madness, almost giddy. He watched the entire game from the sideline, which he decided was too stressful. But he loved Manningham's play, and he doesn't mind sharing a pedestal with his former teammate.
"I thought it was definitely like mine in many ways, as far as the importance and significance of it," Tyree said. "But I think it was more like well-dressed Amani Toomer with that footwork. It was something special."
Tyree noticed Manningham dressing a few feet away.
"Hey, Manningham," he called over. "They're going to ask me about you all day."
All day, all week, all time. Fingertips and toes, and into the history books.