Tyree, a 32-year-old New Jersey native who literally used his head in making an all-time-highlight catch for the Giants late in their 2008 Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots, grew up wearing the jersey of Jerry Rice, the 49ers’ Hall of Fame wide receiver.
The Giants and 49ers meet again in two days at Candlestick Park in San Francisco with a berth in the National Football League title game at stake. There’s no question where the rooting interest will lie for Tyree, now forever tied to New York sports history and the team known as Big Blue. The 49ers’ gold rush stops here, he said.
“I got caught up in the ‘80s wave of Rice and (Joe) Montana,’’ Tyree, who grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, about eight miles (13 kilometers) from the Giants’ home in East Rutherford, said in an interview today. ‘‘They were winning Super Bowls and I was just enjoying it. I ended up hating the Giants because Leonard Marshall smacked them around in the ‘90 game.’’
The Giants beat the 49ers 15-13 in that playoff game after the 1990 season. Marshall, a defensive lineman, had two sacks. New York went on to beat the Buffalo Bills 20-19 in the Super Bowl.
More than two decades later, Tyree was smiling and wearing a Giants camouflage cap at a ceremony in New York where he pulled the lever to light the Empire State Building Giants blue for the next two days.
‘‘The hatred has now totally evaporated,’’ he said.
The Giants-49ers winner will advance to the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis and a meeting with either the Patriots or Baltimore Ravens, who also play on Jan. 22 to decide the American Football Conference championship.
Tyree retired in 2010 and said he is now the director of strategic partnerships for New York-based Tepidus Group, a financial-planning company with a unit focused on philanthropic endeavors such as building orphanages. In June he was back in the spotlight after appearing in a video opposing same-sex marriage. New York lawmakers passed a law allowing it later that month.
Whatever he does, it will be tough for Tyree to gain more fame than he did when he grabbed a pass from quarterback Eli Manning on Feb. 3, 2008, in Glendale, Arizona.
The Giants trailed the Patriots by four points, with third- and-five on their own 44-yard-line and 1:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. Manning evaded tackles by three Patriots defenders, spinning and reversing direction before throwing the ball downfield.
Tyree, who had four receptions during the regular season, leaped through the arms of New England safety Rodney Harrison and caught the ball by pinning it against the top of his own helmet. He held it there as he was tackled by Harrison for a 32- yard gain and a first down. New York scored on Manning’s pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining to win 17-14.
The play was called the greatest in Super Bowl history by Steve Sabol, the president of NFL Films Inc. It also was the last catch Tyree ever made in the National Football League.
Tyree underwent knee surgery in July 2008 and missed that season. He was waived in September 2009 as part of the Giants’ final cutdown to a 53-man roster. He signed in October with the Baltimore Ravens, playing 10 games mostly on special teams. He signed a one-day contract with New York to retire as a Giant in July 2010.
Clutch catches have become recurrent storylines in the playoff histories of both the Giants and 49ers.
Dwight Clark’s touchdown grab from Montana in the back corner of the end zone, which occurred a week after Tyree turned 2, propelled the 49ers past the Dallas Cowboys in the National Football Conference championship after the 1981 season. San Francisco went on to beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl.
The grabs by Clark and Tyree both have become known as ‘‘the Catch.”
Last week, the 49ers advanced to their first NFC championship since the 1997 season when tight end Vernon Davis caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith with nine seconds remaining to beat the New Orleans Saints.
The following day the Giants stunned the defending-champion Green Bay Packers 37-20, seizing control of the game at Lambeau Field on a 66-yard pass from Manning that was caught in the end zone by receiver Hakeem Nicks above a crowd of defenders as time expired in the first half. Nicks also used his helmet to help secure the ball and the Giants took a 20-10 lead on the way to their fourth straight victory.
The Giants’ most recent Super Bowl-championship team won 11 straight games away from their home field. Tyree has noticed the similar streaks.
“Circumstances were just as monumental,” Tyree said. “When Hakeem made that catch, everyone could say this was unreal. Something’s happening here.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at email@example.com.