It's the most dreamed about play in football: A Hail Mary to win the Super Bowl.
Nearly every kid in America, whether it be in the backyard or basement, imagines catching that final heave to win an NFL title.
That is exactly what it came down to Sunday night: A Hail Mary from the arm of Tom Brady, through the Lucas Oil Stadium air, into the center of the end zone.
But the hero was not a receiver. When the ball hit the turf, the dream scenario belonged to the Giants defense. Its players had the play sniffed out.
"We recognized the formation," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said after the Giants beat the Patriots 21-17 to win Super Bowl XLVI. "I was assigned on the running back in case he leaked out or something. He stayed in to block, so as soon as the ball went up, I turned and ran down the field."
The Giants gained a reputation this past week for being overconfident. The name of their defensive formation for that final play represents their swagger.
"For us, we were in our Victory Defense," linebacker Michael Boley said. "It's man underneath, and we drop back guys deep to knock the ball down. I see the ball go up, and I start running down the field."
The linebackers were set on the short throw. For the safeties, a career-defining play awaited. Deon Grant and Antrel Rolle prepared for their most important assignment of the game. Knock the ball down for a ring; miss an assignment and settle for second place.
"I just had to make sure the guy that was close to me didn't catch the ball," Grant said. "I had to pull him down, and hit the ball at the same time. As long as he didn't catch the ball, I was good with it."
"It was a Hail Mary," Rolle said. "At that point, it can be anybody's ball. And we just made sure we did what we were taught. When the ball's in the air, you do your best to knock it down and make sure their guys around and make sure they clean up."
Hail Marys are nothing knew to the Giants' defense, because the play is a staple of the team's practice routine.
"Every single Saturday," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "And I don't know if it's confidence or what, but when you practice something, you don't get unnerved. Our guys knew how to do this. We were going to accomplish this and we needed to make this happen. So I wasn't nervous. I just thought we could make the play."
Kiwanuka saw Fewell's belief live on the field. "I saw everyone in the exact same spot you see them in practice," he said. "Everyone knew exactly what their job was. That's a big part of it: Understanding what you're supposed to do."
As the ball floated up in the air, not all was perfect. Grant, who was one of three Giants in the area of the ball, had trouble locating it for moment.
"It got lost in the lights," he said. "But once I got it again, I made sure I pulled his arm and hit the ball at the same time when I was falling."
That is exactly what Grant did. One hand reached at the ball, while the other swatted at Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez's arm.
Fewell watched Grant, Kenny Phillips and Jacquian Williams knock the ball to the turf. He still was not sure if he had a ring.
"Was there a foul? That's what I was looking at more than anything else," Fewell said. "Was there a penalty flag that was gonna come out?"
He got his answer: No flag. Game over.
Cornerback Aaron Ross watched from the sidelines. “Man, I was just hoping we knocked the ball down," he said. "I was looking at the refs to see the incomplete signal and once I got it, I was full of joy."
Boley reached the end zone and looked at the mess of defensive backs and receivers in awe. "You get back there, you see the safety knock the ball down and it was over after that," he said.
Grant tried to take it all in, saying: "I felt empty. I felt like I was floating.”
Fewell, the architect, let out a sigh of relief:
"That was a beautiful scene, wasn't it?"
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