Phantom Player Makes Phantom Play

Paul Kasabian

With just over one minute left in Super Bowl XLII, Giants wide receiver David Tyree streaked down the middle of the field to catch a desperation heave from quarterback Eli Manning. Looking more like a tightrope artist than a football player, Tyree out-jumped Pats safety Rodney Harrison, snatched the ball and balanced the pigskin on top of his helmet as he fell to the ground.

Four plays later, Manning found his favorite target, Plaxico Burress in the corner of the endzone for the go-ahead score. In retrospect, the play is so baffling and incomprehensible that I doubt the media will ever take the time to pick their jaws off the ground for what is one of the greatest moments in Super Bowl history.

But why will this play go down as one of the best? Is it because of Eli’s evasion of the Pats entire defensive line? Or was it Tyree’s effort in out-dueling Harrison for the ball? Neither. What makes this special is the story behind the man who caught the ball. If Plaxico Burress was on the receiving end of the play, no doubt this moment still would have been memorable. However, Tyree’s participation in this play is the icing on the cake. The underdog on a team of them etched his name into the Super Bowl history books and yet very few people know of this man’s unbelievable ride from a Bergen County, New Jersey jail to becoming a Super Bowl savoir.

David Mikel Tyree was born on January 3, 1980, in Livingston, New Jersey. He grew up in the Garden State and attended Montclair High School, where the wide receiver was named an All-American by Blue Chip Illustrated. He took his football skills to Syracuse to play for the former Big East Champions, but his collegiate career did not take off as well as he would have liked. In his three-year collegiate career, Tyree amassed 68 catches and six touchdowns for 1,125 yards. Those are solid numbers for one year in college, but they are paltry when spread out. Although Tyree didn’t make a name for himself on offense, he showed great promise as a gunner on special teams. In fact, Tyree was such a dynamic special teams performer that he was drafted solely for this purpose in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Giants. Tyree quickly became the star of the Giants special teams, but he encountered some demons that swung over from his college days. His pervasive alcohol and marijuana abuse forced him to separate from his girlfriend and two-year old son.

Then on March 3, 2004, Tyree’s life hit rock bottom. He was driving a car with two friends in Fort Lee, New Jersey when he was pulled over by a police officer for speeding. After finding out that Tyree had a traffic warrant in Blairstown, New Jersey, the office arrested him. However, more damage was added when the officer smelled marijuana in the car. The three men were forced to turn it over and spend the night in jail. Tyree’s career and relationship were suddenly in jeopardy.

With seemingly nowhere else to go, Tyree turned his life over to God at the willing of his mother, Thelma. One day in 2004, Tyree showed up at the Bethel Church of Love and Praise in Bloomfield, New Jersey and just bawled, wondering where his life was going. Pastor Charles W. Harris helped Tyree turn his life around, and within a year, the embattled Giants wide receiver became a Born Again Christian. His relationship with his girlfriend was restored and the two married and had another son. Once Tyree got his life back on track, he turned around and began to help others. Since 2005, Tyree has extended his charitable efforts to D.A.R.E., the Special Olympics and the Tomorrow Children’s Fund. He also visits schools to talk to kids about drug use and the importance of an education. In 2007, Tyree’s off-the-field accomplishments were recognized by the NFL, as he was named one of the 50 most charitable players in the league.

Tyree made the Pro Bowl as a special teams player in 2005. Everything in his world seemed to be on the right path. The Giants made the playoffs in 2005 and 2006 and were one win away from a third consecutive playoff berth on December 16, 2007 when Thelma Tyree, David’s mother and the rock of his world, died of a massive heart attack in Florida. Tyree missed the next two games to be with his family and attend the wake and funeral services. While Tyree was grief-stricken, he offered an interesting comment to the New York Times last month.

It’s not something that’s going to haunt me,” Tyree said. “She experienced the presence of God like never before.”

Tyree’s mother had been doing ministry work in Florida for three years. Her presence in her son’s life no doubt had an impact on how he perceives the world. As Tyree tried to get his life together yet again, the Giants were on a historic run to the Super Bowl. While Tyree still made his presence felt on special teams, he was in the process of having his worst year as a wide receiver. He made only five catches for 39 yards during the regular season. No one thought this fourth-string wide receiver was going to make an impact outside the special teams realm. Then again, if Tyree could turn around his life, anything is possible.

The play that we all saw last Sunday is called “Phantom” in the Giants’ playbook. It calls for Tyree to run a post route and then to cut in on the inside. One of the definitions of a phantom according to Dictionary.com is “an image that appears only in the mind; an illusion.” For that moment in time, the word phantom had a triple meaning. Besides being the name of the play, the moment itself was something out of a dream. Who could have imagined that the slow-footed Manning could evade three tacklers? Who could have imagined that Tyree would have been in the game, let alone made the catch? However, what is most important to realize is that David Tyree’s life has now become phantom-like itself.

He probably had trouble imagining whether he would still be on the team, let alone making a Super Bowl wining catch, when he sat in that jail cell in March 2004. However, the Super Bowl XLII hero showed through three years of perseverance, hard work, family support and some Divine Intervention that phantoms can become reality on any given day.