INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — For every Drew Brees and Ray Lewis, there is a David Tyree or Larry Brown. Not only do superstars win Super Bowls, super nobodies are heroes, too.
And there are plenty of candidates for Sunday’s title game between the New York Giants and New England Patriots.
“Look at a guy like Sterling Moore,” said Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich, a good candidate himself to leap from obscure to acclaimed. “If Sterling doesn’t make that play against Baltimore, we obviously would not be here. It’s the play that got us to the Super Bowl.”
Moore, a rookie free agent cut by the Oakland Raiders and picked up for New England’s practice squad in October, might have been best known for missing a tackle on Torrey Smith’s touchdown reception earlier in the AFC championship game.
Then he stripped the ball in the end zone from Ravens receiver Lee Evans on what would have been a winning touchdown.
“Everybody else is tweeting me and texting me that I’m going to go down in history for that play,” Moore said. “I don’t think I understand. But we have another big game on Sunday, so if I come out here and screw this game up it means nothing.”
Nothing sets Giants fans to celebrating more than highlights of “The Catch.” Tyree’s remarkable reception — with the ball flush against his helmet — came on a desperation pass from Eli Manning on the winning drive in the 2008 Super Bowl, an upset that shattered the Patriots’ unbeaten season. Even though Tyree had an earlier touchdown catch in the 17-14 win, he was hardly a prime candidate for a central role in Big Blue lore.
He mainly was a special-teamer — a good one, too — and usually the fifth option in the passing game. That is, if he made it onto the field as a receiver at all.
“David Tyree showed that anybody can play that role, you just need the opportunity to do it,” said Devin Thomas, who is this season’s Tyree, with the same roles on special teams and offense. “For me, special teams might be the way to make that happen with a return, maybe a hit, a fumble.”
Thomas recovered the fumble on punt returns by San Francisco’s Kyle Williams in the NFC championship game. Before that, he had been a disappointment for the Redskins after being drafted in the second round in 2008, and almost an afterthought in the Meadowlands for much of this season.
“Every play is my chance to be a hero,” he said Wednesday. “I always take that outlook onto the field, but it’s also something I get the opportunity to share with my teammates: Any of them can be a hero, too.”
Two relative unknowns ended up winning Super Bowl MVP honors thanks to key interceptions. Tampa Bay free safety Dexter Jackson grabbed a pair of passes from Oakland’s Rich Gannon, the league’s 2002 MVP, in the Bucs’ 48-21 romp that year. Dallas cornerback Larry Brown had two interceptions, returning one for the clinching touchdown, in the Cowboys’ 27-17 Super Bowl victory over Pittsburgh in 1996. His teammates included Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, and in the secondary alone, Deion Sanders and Darren Woodson.
Brown parlayed that performance into a big-money free agent deal with Oakland, and faded into obscurity soon after.
Actually, players say planning a hero move is not a good idea.
“You can’t try too hard,” Patriots fullback Lousaka Polite said. “All you can do is focus on the task at hand, whether you’re at fullback, linebacker, on the line, or the quarterback. Do the best job at what you do and if you help the team win, great. Nobody is totally responsible for winning.”
But someone can be responsible for making critical plays.
“It doesn’t really come down to one play, or it shouldn’t,” said Giants middle linebacker Chase Blackburn, who spent half the season unsigned and contemplating a career as a middle school teacher. “Not even if it’s one man taking on somebody and stopping him at the goal line. You can’t say one guy won the game.”
Still, being an unsung hero has lots of appeal for Blackburn.
“Sure,” he said, “because it means we won the game.”