Spike Lee, Plaxico Burress, Chris Snee, David Tyree on “The Greatest Catch Ever”

At the world premiere of Spike Lee’s “The Greatest Catch Ever” at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, the director and members of the Super Bowl XLII champion New York Giants talked about the film and that catch by David Tyree that sealed the victory.  Joining Lee and Tyree in the post-screening Q&A were Plaxico Burress and Chris Snee; an excerpt of their conversation follows:

Spike Lee: I understand that as an athlete you have to give love to your players. To your quarterback you have to give love to your great catch but to say, that was the greatest catch he ever saw? I said, nah, I can’t make a film about this. That’s not the greatest catch. Maybe we’re on the field but that was my inspiration. Watching Sports Center, ESPN I forgot when it was [Rob] Gronkowski [of the New England Patriots] made that catch in the locker room after, he said that was the greatest catch he ever saw.

Moderator, Michael Smith of ESPN: You beg to differ?

Lee: I said hell-to-the-nah.

How long did it take you to put this together?

Lee: Well, it look longer – the editing, Randy Wilkins, stand up Randy. And Randy edited the film. One of my former students at NYU. The NYU Mafia. But we had, I think two shooting days. The most difficult thing was scheduling you know because Eli [Manning]’s still playing, you know the coach is playing but it was fun. I mean I always enjoy doing where I can just, do stuff, my two loves films and sports. I’m a Giants fan. Grew up, gotta be honest I grew up a Jets fan. I’m at the age where Joe Willy Namath, They was my god. But I was at both Super Bowls and as I said earlier to somebody outside, the one thing I feel that diminished this film was Pete Carroll.  This film would be better if the Patriots had lost.

Well but is there something special, that’s why I asked how long it took you because it worked out. They’re celebrating their fourth title. But you here as a Giants fan said, But yeah, we still got you twice! You can’t take that from us. It’s kind of good that the timing worked out that way.

Lee: No.

You wanted a win, a loss excuse me.

Lee: First of all, I’m a New Yorker and I hate any team from Boston. Any team. The Red Sox, The Celtics, Patriots, Bruins it doesn’t matter.

Little League? Doesn’t matter.

Lee: I was talking to the guy and I mean anytime I see anybody that’s played professional football, the first question is, why did Pete Carroll throw that ball? The ball’s on a the half yard line, [if] anybody in the league is gonna get a half-yard, it’s Beast Mode [Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks]. Why would you throw the ball and let the Patriots get a chance? I don’t understand it.

What’s interesting about that night, I’ve said this before that history is very much written in single space. Because the margin between being a footnote and being famous is that small. I mean, David Tyree, Greatest Catch Ever. Are people talking about it, if you don’t catch a touchdown pass? Does anybody talk about Jermaine Kearse’s catch in the Super Bowl? He almost was the next Tyree. And that half a yard away by points but they don’t seal the deal. So Plax, David talked about hearing the music in his head when the ball was in the air, you talked about how the ball was going so slow, what were you thinking when the ball was coming out? It looked like a simple catch but we’ve seen people drop balls like that before.

Plaxico Burress: Well, I was telling myself,  ‘Man, if I drop this ball I cannot go back to New Jersey or Connecticut.’ So I had to find a way to catch this football and it just seemed like eternity for me. ‘Cause, I knew the route and like I said the field, I didn’t expect that they would give me single coverage and yeah, I kind of just lit up. I was smiling under that big mouthpiece I had. I knew the ball was comin’ before anybody else did and it was, just to catch it man and get your feeling man and let’s go home.

Is there anything that David Tyree could possibly do to get that ball from you?

Burress: Say that again?

They’re still fighting over that ball.

Burress: I mean, he gave us a World Championship he can’t offer me anything else better than that. Like I said, I am a football player. Not going to use that again but he gave us a World Championship and like I said, I wouldn’t be seen here today, my catch wouldn’t have happened if he doesn’t make that play and I say that, nobody else can make that play but him. I couldn’t have made it. I couldn’t have made it. At that point in time, the stage, the moment when it happened, two minute, no-huddle just everything that went into it you know with Eli getting out of that, that sack and him throwin’ it. And I was just screamin’ like, No, don’t throw it! And for him to make that catch at that time, the way it happened. Nobody else could have made that play at that time but him.

Chris, what else came up as you were watching that?

Chris Snee: I wanna watch the whole game. I’d like to stay here.

Burress: I haven’t watched it yet.

You haven’t watched it?

Burress: The whole game? I’ve never watched it.

Snee: Good game, I’ve seen it.

David Tyree: We won.

Burress: I know it was a good game, I was there.

Can I make a confession? Since we’re all friends and family here. Everybody remembers where you were when certain moments like that happen. You know where I was? Asleep. I had partied the night before in Phoenix, didn’t have the cover to get in.

[later in the panel]

Tyree: They had this social media thing goin’ but you know what? Like I said, when I’m looking at the magnitude and I’ve said this often that the magnitude of the catch to New York City 17 years waiting for any other championship, me being from Jersey, I’m a humble recipient. You know, you can’t write the script any better for a guy like myself. So you know, and like I said you can’t take that much credit. It’s not like I was practicing that, you know? So, I just take it, I receive it as a blessing man. I think the best part, the best memories that stir up are these guys. Kind of the guys we went to war with the team, the resolve, the clowns, and the great ‘ballers.

Lee: I would like to give a shout out to Rodney Harrison. He was usually the guy, correct me if I’m wrong, the guy with too much pride, say what he said. You know, he wasn’t getting paid for it or nothing so, he did us a big solid because you just can’t have all Giants in this.

Did you ask any other Patriots? Or try to get any of them?

Lee: Nah, I used the one.

He was the only one you wanted?

Lee: I mean, who was else going to do it? He’s not Harris, I know him a little bit but to have, you gotta have the Patriots’ side of this and I think that, I want to thank Rodney for doing this because it really balances out because otherwise it’s like, We’re great, we’re great, we’re great. We’re great, we’re great but he was honest and those…that’s why I’m still mad that they won.  I mean, they should not have another Super Bowl.

I’m sorry.

Lee: We beat ’em twice.

Yeah, you always have that.

Lee: Rodney was very, very…I mean…I didn’t think he was gonna say it on camera but when we started rolling he said, ‘Spike, before you came here I went to my closet and I started praying.’ Because…we shot in his home, we flew to Atlanta for this. Three of us in his home, it was almost like a confession. And very often not, do you get to hear from the loser. You know, and they might say, ‘Well, they’re a better team’ but those were really hard raw feelings that he’s going to feel that way till the rest of his life. Yeah, seven years later and it’s not going to change 20 years from now.

Yeah, I’m sure most of ’em is still too painful to discuss.

Lee: You know [Bill] Belichick wasn’t sayin’ nothing.

[later in the panel]

Male Audience Member: Hi guys, well first off, thank you for your victory. Thank you for the film, great movie. I just want to ask, you talked about humility before, David, and about how Rodney Harrison basically accepted what happened. How do you feel about those commentators, I won’t name a city like Boston. And I won’t name a network say like ESPN who basically have made excuses for the Patriots. Who basically said you guys lucked out? Like Bill Simmons always.

Moderator: By the way, that’s one guy. You can’t say like ESPN, that’s one person.

Male Audience Member: Well not just ESPN but maybe I remember Peter King ranked the 2008 Patriots as the best team in a decade, which I don’t agree with because they didn’t do the job. They didn’t get the job done. So, I mean, how do you feel about that perception of you guys? That you guys basically lucked out, which of course you didn’t. Of course, I mean but it kind of makes me mad as a New York fan that people try to downplay your victory.

Tyree: I mean, like personally, it doesn’t do me any harm. I got a ring.

From a personal perspective, but I get it, I know you all think there’s some measure of resentment that goes along with it. I think a lot of people, I think it spoiled the plans of a lot of people. Maybe whether it was their own sports team, where they had their own biases. You watch Tom Brady be great for so long you become a fan even as an analyst. So I think maybe that’s part of it but at the end of the day, the best team won that day.

[later in the panel]

Female Audience Member: And how do you feel that what she [Tyree’s mentor] said to you played a role in The Greatest Catch Ever?

Tyree: I think it’s very direct. It’s very simple ma’am, I’m just a normal Christian. I’m born again. I love Jesus radically and she had been a part of my life. She wasn’t my pastor but she’d been a part of my life so when said those words, as a believer I’m just a believer so I believed God…and you know the next morning, the profound thing about was her husband got on the phone and said The world’s no longer going to remember you as special teams player but as a receiver.

What was pretty neat about that and still, I want to fish out the local Arizona paper but in the paper the next day, gets to the catch, talks about the catch, toward the end of the article it said, ‘The world will no longer remember him as a special teams player but as a receiver who made the greatest catch in Super Bowl history.’ And what it does for me personally is, it reminds me that my God’s alive. You know my God is alive, I don’t serve a dead god, I serve a God that’s personal that actually cares about me as an individual to the point that it would impact an entire sports content. And so it wasn’t by surprise, it wasn’t by happenstance, it was foretold and it was in the mind of God. So, like I said, I’m a humble recipient of something that really transcends the game of football and I get a chance to impact people’s lives because of it.

Moderator: How did this change your life personally? Catching the game winning touchdown in the Super Bowl?

Burress: I don’t think I really understood the magnitude of it until we got back to New Jersey. When I woke up that morning the first person I saw was [New York Giants co-owner] John Mara. It was just a great moment. Let’s celebrate, have fun. Let’s try to do it again next year. And the first call I got was from Jerome Bettis and was he was like, ‘It feels good, doesn’t it?’ And I was, ‘Hey man, you have no idea what that feeling is.’

We flew from Phoenix to back to New Jersey. And I expected for it to be a little rowdy but when we landed, I mean we was going on the Turnpike North and all the traffic on the Turnpike South was stopped and people like standing on top of their cars and I was like man, this might get out of hand a little bit. And you see like, a million, two or three million people at a parade. We didn’t understand the magnitude of it until we got back here and then we went over to the stadium after the parade, and I’m pullin’ my truck up in the parking lot and the fan’s out there tailgating like we got a game! We just won the Super Bowl the game was over but they was out there with their tents, they was barbecuing, having a good time, so I’m driving my car trying to get to the stadium and they’re like pushing my car back and forth. I yelled, ‘Stop, you’re gonna flip my truck over.’ But yeah, it was just a moment that I can’t really explain it. Because as a child growing up you can’t live it or draw it up any better than how it happened. The game winning Super Bowl catch I mean, what kid that plays football doesn’t want to do it in their fantasy?

What about you, Chris?

Snee: None of us knew what to expect, you know? Like Plax is talking about, you dream about it but you don’t know until it actually happens. I mean, that first Super Bowl it went by so fast. You know, I was on the bus heading back to the hotel after we won. I didn’t know what happened after the game. So that’s why I’m thankful I got to go through it again and really tried to soak it all in more. You know, stayed out on the field and just tried to slow things down even if things were so fast. It didn’t it me the first time until the parade coming back here, just the people that were lined up on the side streets, confetti flying, it was, it was something special.

Spike, the New York championships that you’ve been around for and the teams you root for. What is it that makes this particular team, this group, this story so special compared to some other New York champions?

Lee: Because they played and defeated supposedly the greatest team ever. I’m tired of hearing about Tom Brady. I’m tired of hearing the golden boy. And the next time I see Pete Carroll…

Would you ever do a film about that play? Or that situation?

Lee: No.

That’s too painful, huh?

Lee: It would only be one second!

What you will probably be as loquacious as ever because I did get him to talk.

Lee: But I mean, for me, New York City is the greatest city in the world. And when you’re able to experience the many, you know, years the Yankees were winning, [the Bill] Buckner game in ’86 when the Mets beat the Red Sox. I’m old enough to be there you know when the Knicks win their first World Championship. I mean, this is big. If you win, this is greatest place in the world. I mean, Joe Namath still can’t. He can’t spend money here in New York City. No one wants to let him pay for anything. Willis Reed, I mean, if you do something here. You good.

Tyree: I need that problem. It didn’t work out for me like that.

Lee: I know, I know. It’s less for football players because of the helmet. So it’s a quarterback.

Wait a second, you mean to tell me your money is good in New York?

Tyree: They’re happy. They’re happy to pull that check out.

Burress: I will say this though, me and Antonio Pierce went out to eat when we first got back. It was just me and him, we were just going to get something to eat, I think we had just received our rings, we were sporting ’em around. And me and him, we literally walked into Al Fresco’s and we got a standing ovation. And I was like, what do we do? You know, it was a great feeling, and it was just me and him, and they sent about like 30 bottles of champagne and I’m like, ‘Who’s gonna drink all of this?’ But yeah, it was a good feeling.

Video: Plaxico Burress, Chris Snee, David Tyree, Spike Lee – 2015 Tribeca Film Festival
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

Excerpts from the Q&A following the premiere of THE GREATEST CATCH EVER, directed by Spike Lee and focusing on the iconic play by David Tyree that helped the New York Giants win the 2008 Super Bowl.