IN 2007 David Tyree made all of two autograph-show appearances, earning $2,000 per show. Small change on the signature circuit. Worse, eight days before Super Bowl XLII, New Jersey papers ran ads for an event at which fans could get a free Tyree autograph with every $79.99 Plaxico Burress signature. What a difference a Catch makes. After the Super Bowl, Tyree signed a $200,000 autograph deal—$20,000 per show with a 10-show minimum.
Life for the career special-teamer and backup wideout changed in ways far beyond that. Tyree, 28, was a guest of honor at a Nelson Mandela Foundation fund-raiser, appeared on talk shows and recounted or re-created his catch at numerous other events. Finally he had to tell agent Al Mercado, "No more awards. No more parades. No more anything. I've had enough."
"Before this, no one cared to know me," says Tyree, a Giants sixth-round pick in 2003. "I made the Pro Bowl for my special teams play [in 2005], but no one knew who I was."
Tyree has handled his new fame well. At a May fund-raiser for the Montclair, N.J., public schools—he starred at Montclair High—Tyree got a huge ovation. And despite surgery on his right knee in April, he played along and caught Montclair High quarterback Marlon Calbi's 25-yard arcing spiral, trapping the ball on his head as he'd done in the Super Bowl. When an onlooker asked Tyree how it felt to have finally arrived, he replied, "I haven't. I still have to go win a spot on the roster, the same way I've had to every year."
Truer words he's never spoken. Veterans Burress and Amani Toomer are entrenched as the starting wideouts, and the Giants have taken a receiver within the first three rounds in each of the last three drafts—Sinorice Moss, then Steve Smith and Mario Manningham. Training camp opened last Thursday, but Tyree won't be practicing until his knee is fully healthy; he said it felt about 75%. He also said he's not expecting any favors. "I don't want to be handed anything," Tyree said. "Believe me, it's a lot sweeter when you earn everything you've gotten."