“It’s one of those moments and one of those times in history that will never be forgotten,” Burress said today between interviews on Radio Row at the Super Bowl XLVIII Media Center in midtown. “To me, it’s still the greatest game ever played. No doubt. Best Super Bowl ever played. People ask me about it every day, especially being in this area and this market, New Jersey and New York.”
The Patriots had taken a 14-10 lead on a six-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Randy Moss with 2:42 remaining in the game. The Giants took possession at their own 17 and moved into Patriots territory at the 24 when Tyree famously secured the ball against his helmet on a pass from Manning on third-and-five. Four plays later, after an 11-yard reception by Steve Smith, the Giants had a first down on the New England 13.
Burress lined up on the left side, covered by cornerback Ellis Hobbs.
“I didn’t know the ball was coming to me, because we had called the same play two times in a row,” Burress said. “They were basically giving me double coverage and single covering everybody on the backside, because we had three receivers on the backside and just myself (on the other side). We got to the line of scrimmage and Eli grabbed me on the way out and said, ‘Hey man, if we get single coverage, I’m throwing it.’ I was like, ‘Man, they’re not going to single me right now.’ I got to the line of scrimmage and my eyes got so big because I couldn’t believe that … it wasn’t just single coverage, it was blitz coverage. The corner had to protect his inside and I just said, ‘I’m going to give him one move, he has to respect it based on the concept of that defense.’ It was history.”
Manning quickly threw to Burress, who faked going inside, then popped out toward the sideline. Hobbs momentarily lost his footing and Burress had the separation he needed. Burress then waited for a ball that seemed to take an eternity to float to him.
“I know at least three or four times I’ve said to myself, ‘I’m not dropping this ball for nothing in the world,’” Burress said. “I still remember the sound when it hit my hands and my shoulder pads. I will never forget it.”
He is still holding onto the ball.
“Yes, I have the ball,” Burress said. “It’s in a very safe place, very safe place. I look at it every blue moon. It’s a prized possession.”
So is his Super Bowl ring, though Burress said he has worn it only “five or six times.” Of course, he said that while showing off his oversized cufflinks, which are exact replicas of the top of the ring.
The night the Giants received those rings, Burress repeatedly said he could say he was a champion for the rest of his life. That sentiment is just as strong today.
“When I look at TV and I see all these commercials and all these guys training and working hard, everybody’s trying to get to the pinnacle of their profession and that’s to be a world champion,” Burress said. “I look at LeBron, I look at every sport and everybody wants to be a champion and it’s something that is so exhilarating, that feeling that you have. Nobody can ever take it away from you and you have the hardware to show for it.”
*Two more from Burress:
Although he said Super Bowl XLII was the greatest game ever played, Burress said that season’s NFC Championship Game is not far behind. In the brutal minus-23 wind chill in Green Bay, Burress played one of the best games of his career, catching 11 passes for 151 yards in the Giants’ thrilling 23-20 overtime victory.
“That Green Bay game was pretty special, also, going into those elements,” Burress said. “Nobody picked us to win that football game and knowing how cold it was going to be, it was the most excruciatingly hard 3½ hours I’ve ever played through.
“Yeah, I had the game of my life, because I had already lost two championship games (as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers). I was just waiting on mine. I would say, ‘I’m not going home.’ It’s a hurtful game when you lose the championship game, because it’s like you’re right at the doorstep, but then you have to start all over. You never know when you’re getting back.”
*Burress was back with the Steelers in 2013, but his season ended in August, when he tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder after landing awkwardly in a training camp practice. Three days later, Burress underwent surgery.
In 11 NFL seasons with the Steelers, Giants and Jets, Burress has 553 receptions for 8,499 yards and 64 touchdowns. Now 36, he has not ruled out a comeback this year.
“I’m going to see how I feel,” Burress said. “If I don’t, I’m very satisfied with the things that I’ve done in this business. I’m just not going to go out there and risk my physical health just to go out and prove people wrong. The job is to prove to myself that I can go out there and be healthy and have an impact. I just don’t want to go out there to say that I came back from a major injury. I want to make the right decision for me.”
*Two years ago, Manning and the Giants beat New England again in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, where his older brother Peyton starred for the Colts for 14 years. Now Peyton Manning has a chance to win his second Super Bowl Sunday in MetLife Stadium, where Eli and the Giants have played their home games since 2010. Peyton’s AFC champion Denver Broncos will meet the Seattle Seahawks Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Manning brothers dined together Tuesday night at Eli’s home in nearby Hoboken.
“That is a pretty unique and ironic situation that Eli played in a Super Bowl in Indianapolis, and that the Broncos have a chance to play in the one in New York,” Peyton Manning said today at the Broncos’ interview session in Jersey City. “I had a chance to see Eli last night. I got to visit with him and his family. He and I don’t get to spend a lot of time together in person. He came to the game two weeks ago against the Patriots. That’s one of four or five NFL games of mine that he has been to in person. It’s always special to have a chance to be with him. I met his second daughter for the first time; Lucy, my niece. She was born right before training camp. I had never met her. I enjoyed that time as an uncle last night.”
*Super Bowl XXXV will never be included in a list of best Super Bowls (especially by the Giants, who lost to Baltimore, 34-7), but a total of six assistant coaches in that game went on to become NFL head coaches.
The list includes the Giants’ coordinators, John Fox on defense and Sean Payton on offense. Fox is in his third season as the Broncos’ lead coach after leading the Carolina Panthers for nine seasons. Payton has been the New Orleans Saints’ coach since 2006.
From the Baltimore staff, Marvin Lewis (defensive coordinator), Jack Del Rio (linebackers), Rex Ryan (defensive line) and Mike Smith (defensive assistant/defensive line) became head coaches. Lewis has been in Cincinnati since 2003, Del Rio was the Jacksonville Jaguars coach from 2003-11, Ryan has coached the Jets since 2009 and Smith has been the Atlanta Falcons’ head coach since 2008.