It’s a career like no other.
Eli Manning finished with a .500 career record in the regular season but won a pair of Super Bowl MVPs. Along the way there were some other magical moments, such as winning on the road in bitter cold Green Bay in the playoffs and his welcome-to-the-NFL moment his rookie year in the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys.
Those were just the appetizers though. These are the biggest and best moments and plays in Manning’s legendary career.
The Helmet Catch
Eli Manning found David Tyree for one of the greatest plays of all time to beat the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII …
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 22, 2020
It’s a play that needs no other qualifier. If someone mentions the helmet catch, you know exactly what they’re talking about.
It’s the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII, with the Giants trailing the undefeated New England Patriots. The play call is 62 Sail-Y Union. David Tyree is running a post route vs. quarters coverage after a week where Manning said he could “not catch a pass” in practice.
Manning drops back but faces pressure from the left side. He steps up into two rushers up the middle, including from New England’s Richard Seymour, who gets his hands on Manning but can’t bring him down. The Giants quarterback spins away and spots Tyree down the middle of the middle. He chucks the ball despite Patriots safety Rodney Harrison being in the area.
Tyree, mostly a special teams standout, grabs the ball with one hand and pins it to his helmet. It goes for a 32-yard gain and four plays later Plaxico Burress catches the game-winning touchdown pass (more on this later).
“History could have been a lot different for me,” Manning once said in an interview with his brother Peyton.
Instead, the Giants took down the undefeated Patriots. Manning won the first of his two Super Bowl rings and MVPs.
All because of what Peyton called “arguably the greatest play in the history of football,” known as the helmet catch.
The Manningham Throw
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) January 22, 2020
This was again against the Patriots. The Giants trailed in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI. They get the ball with 3:46 remaining at their own 12-yard line. Patriots coach Bill Belichick tells his defense to make them throw the ball to Mario Manningham.
The play is streaks shallow, according to Manningham. It was something they ran over and over and over throughout the season. Manningham is the flanker out left who runs a streak along the left sideline. The window for Manning to fit the ball between cornerback Sterling Moore and safety Patrick Chung is miniscule. But Manning throws the ball to Manningham, who is the third option on the play.
“Oh, s— he’s throwing the ball,” Manningham recalled.
The whole game was on the line on this drive. Manning fit the ball over Moore’s outstretched fingertips and into the arms of Manningham, who tip-toed on the sideline to get his feet in bounds.
“Were you in Rio?” Manning said afterwards as they went to the huddle and the play was reviewed.
“Yeah, I was in!” Manningham said.
Manning smirked. It was the longest play of the game — 38 yards. He went to Manningham on each of the next three plays on a drive that ended with an Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown with 1:04 remaining.
The Giants held on for a 21-17 victory. Manning earned his second Super Bowl MVP, with the play of the game being the spectacular throw by Manning and catch by Manningham.
The legend of Eli continues to grow. He becomes one of just five players with at least two Super Bowl MVPs.
The Plaxico TD
This was to actually win the game and take down the undefeated Patriots. The Giants are in a formation with three receivers on the right. Burress is the only receiver on the left matched against cornerback Ellis Hobbs.
The Patriots are playing a Cover Zero defense. Burress runs a slant and go, leaving Hobbs in the dust. He’s open in the end zone for the easy 13-yard touchdowns with 35 seconds remaining.
“It was just a fade route, and they came with an all-out blitz,” Manning said at the time. “They had been playing zone coverage. They came with an all-out blitz, and the corner sat because he thought we might run something short. Plaxico ran right by him and made a great catch to win the game.”
It was Manning’s second touchdown pass of the fourth quarter. At the time, Joe Montana was the only other quarterback to throw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes in a winning effort.
Other big moments:
Manning takes a beating but perseveres in an overtime win during the 2011 NFC Championship Game.
A game-winning throw to Amani Toomer against the Broncos in 2008.
A 99-yard TD pass to Victor Cruz in a must-win game against the Jets in Week 15 of the 2011 season.
He’s traded from the Chargers to the Giants during the 2004 NFL draft for Philip Rivers and three draft picks.
A Hail Mary to Hakeem Nicks in the 2011 playoff win in Green Bay.