Just as he did in 2002 when he left Warren G. Harding fans breathless with a game for the ages against the Massillon Tigers, Mario Manningham dropped jaws from every corner of the nation Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI.
It was a play that will be replayed far beyond the postgame shows that ran into the wee hours of Monday morning. It's up there with the catch David Tyree made for the New York Giants in their Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots four years ago. It combined the acrobatic skills of another famous receiver from Warren, Paul Warfield, with the hand-eye coordination of any great hitter in baseball.
If you haven't seen Manningham's 38-yard reception that was the key play on the touchdown drive that propelled the Giants to a 21-17 win over the Patriots, you have to check it out. Given the moment in time and the magnitude of the event, it had the magical feel of a Hollywood script.
Manningham, a 2005 Harding graduate, ran a simple go route. As he reached for a well-thrown pass from quarterback Eli Manning, Manningham, knowing he was about to be hit by Patrick Chung, managed to make the catch and keep both feet inbounds.
Ahmad Bradshaw might have scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 6-yard run a few plays later, but Manningham's reception won the game for the Giants. Manning will drive home with a car as a reward for being the game's MVP, but he should at least give Manningham the keys for one weekend.
Before the fourth quarter, Manningham was rarely on Manning's radar screen. Manningham had two short receptions and was involved in a controversial no-call when Sterling Moore appeared to grab him with his left hand before breaking up a third-down pass.
Manning began to look in Manningham's direction late in the game. The two connected on a short curl route after the 38-yard play. There appeared to be a mixup on an outside route on the same drive.
Manningham sort of predicted being a difference-maker in an interview with "The Tribune Chronicle" 11 days ago. Saying he wasn't satisfied with his play in the regular season, he said he was trying to make up for it in the playoffs. You could say 13 receptions for 189 yards and three touchdowns, including five for 73 yards against the Patriots, qualifies as making a difference.
Manningham admitted that he hadn't fully realized he was about to play in a Super Bowl in the days after the Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. He might not realize he made the catch of the day until he comes down off the cloud he has to be riding, which might not happen for a long time.
Many of Manningham's fans in Warren were undoubtedly thinking about his three seasons at Harding while watching the game. Beginning his high school career as a sophomore and one season removed from the Maurice Clarett era, Manningham set a standard for excellence that might not be seen for a long time.
Nothing topped his four-touchdown performance against Massillon in his sophomore season. Two touchdown receptions, one kick return to the house and a punt return that went the distance. Drop Manningham's name to anyone walking along Lincoln Way in Massillon, and they might have a nasty flashback.
The stage yesterday was much bigger and the rewards of victory were more lucrative than what happened that October night in 2002. Manningham is now part of the Giants' rich history for eternity.
There's a famous picture of Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle kneeling on the ground with blood on his face after a game in 1964. The photo is up there with Cassius Clay standing over a fallen Sonny Liston and hockey great Bobby Orr parallel to the ground after scoring an overtime goal to win the Stanley Cup for the Boston Bruins as one of the greatest snapshots in the annals of sport.
There will certainly be many great pictures of Manningham's catch. None will rival the shot of Tittle, but for today they will look like classics to all Giants' fans.