A shortened version of this appeared in today's Patriots' notebook, but last night I got a chance to talk to one of my favorite former Pats, Ellis Hobbs, about the touchdown Plaxico Burress had to win Super Bowl XLII:
The play that is most remembered from Super Bowl XLII, when the Patriots played the Giants, is Eli Manning’s miracle escape and heave to David Tyree, who caught the ball against his helmet despite the best efforts of Rodney Harrison to pry it from him.
That may have been the most memorable, but four plays later came the one that won the game: Manning to Plaxico Burress, 13 yards, touchdown. New England corner Ellis Hobbs was left in single coverage on the receiver, and Burress froze Hobbs at the five-yard line when Hobbs thought he’d be playing an inside route.
Instead the play was a fade, and Burress scored with 35 seconds to play, giving New York a 17-14 lead.
Yesterday, Burress, now with the Jets, was asked about the play. This Sunday, when the Jets travel to New England, will be the first time he faces that Patriots since that night in Arizona.
Last night, Hobbs, now retired and trying his hand at a number of ventures, including filmmaking, was asked about the play as well.
“It was a play that, we had run the same play twice. Eli told me before I broke the huddle that if they gave me single coverage, he was going to throw it. I’m just thinking to myself, there’s no way they’re going to single cover me at this time in the game,” Burress recalled. “They actually went Cover-0, with no safety help. I had been watching so much film, watching film on Ellis Hobbs, inside from the ten-yard line to the goal line and noticing that he likes to stop his feet right around the goal line.
“I just went up, just made a move, never broke stride, just kept running. I had watched so much film on him that if I had a chance to run that route, I knew exactly how and when to run it. It actually came down to the film, running that exact route, as I had seen him do, he did exactly what it showed on tape. I knew when we lined up that I had a great shot to make the game-winning catch.”
He thanked the Patriots for putting him in single coverage for that snap.
Said Hobbs, who now lives in Atlanta, “I played the coverage to the best of ability. All-out blitz, a team like the Giants that had constantly run inside routes – I’m thinking all of this in a matter of seconds – the quickest and easiest thing is the inside throw, play what you know best. It so happens they ran it the other way.”
Burress, naturally, calls the reception the best moment of his career, a career that came to a screeching halt less than a year later when he accidentally shot himself in the leg at a Manhattan nightclub and would serve 22 months in prison on weapons charges.
Hobbs says the play doesn’t cross his mind unless he’s asked about it.
“Coming into this business, it’s something that you dream of,” said Burress. “Playing the wide receiver position, being able to play in the Super Bowl but to win it in the fashion that I did, it’s something that you dream of as a child. To do it against a team that was probably the best in history offensively, what they had accomplished. How big that game was, it’s just something that will always be a part of me. It was a defining moment of a lot of guys in our careers and it was beautiful moment.”
On Sunday, Burress expects to hear boos from the Gillette Stadium crowd.
“Every now and then it will come up, it’s weird how it comes up,” Hobbs said. “That play man, to be serious, not to brush off people, that play does not cross my mind. It was what it was and it happened, simple as that.
“That call and everything leading up to that play, you cannot solely put that on anybody. There was so much other stuff that happened…Another reason is when you give literally everything you have – I lived that that year, I was getting shots in my leg, shots between my legs, shots under my scrotum, my shoulder come out of place at home, couldn’t hold the remote - what can you complain about? I gave it my all, I was tested mentally and physically. When the catch was made, I was disappointed because I hate to lose but I was relieved because I made it through season. I went on the (surgical) table immediately. That’s how bad I was.”
Hobbs expressed his respect for Burress, remembering that when New England traveled to New York for the regular season finale in 2007, with the Pats trying to post a 16-0 record, they battled on the field. He also said he’s glad that Burress got another chance to play, that the mistake he made didn’t mark the end of his career.
The end of Hobbs’ career was out of his control, and came on one hit, while he was returning a kickoff for the Eagles last season. The next injury forced him to retire at 28. His Outer Stratosphere company is involved in several projects, most notably “The Last Fall,” a film which he executive-produced with wife Monique and tells the story of a professional football player who retires at 25 and has to deal with what’s next. They’re applying to have it shown at this winter’s Sundance Film Festival.