Tyree Talks About His Rise From Rock Bottom to Super Bowl Stardom
The Giants’ David Tyree spent about 90 minutes with The Times on Saturday morning and graciously recounted his arrest, his drunken blackouts, his finding faith and his mom’s death in December. He had just arrived home after taking a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, where he was making the talk-show rounds after making his memorable catch in the Super Bowl. He sat at his kitchen table, surrounded by family preparing for an afternoon baby shower. What follows are some excerpts from the conversation.
New York Times: So what has this week been like?
David Tyree: People ask me: Did I feel like I was going to have an impact on this game? And I definitely did. But I always feel that way. Because I play on special teams. So I didn’t know how I was going to impact the game, but I felt good. I was really trusting my faith. You can’t separate me and my faith.
NYT: Has it started to sink in?
DT: It’s definitely starting to sink in. It’s good to be back home, with my family. Just to have that feeling of normality, you know. Obviously, there’s tremendous opportunities and advantages. It opens up doors, when you have a game like this on a stage like that. The other end of it is I’ve got some kid calling my house. “How did you get my number?” He’s like, “Can Mr. Tyree give us some stuff?” It’s innocent, it’s cute, but at the same time it’s like, ‘Whoa.’ This is another world.
NYT: Let’s talk about the catch.
DT: You’re talking about one of the best games ever. I never would have imagined. The touchdown was enough. I was good to go. Honestly, I thought that’s what God had promised me. God was dealing with me about becoming a receiver this year. Some friends of mine, they had spoken into my life that God was going to do some great things. The platform would be for him, but it would be not as a special teams player, but as a receiver. So here I am.
NYT: Could you give us a play-by-play?
DT: (He starts to diagram the play with his fingers on the kitchen table.) I had a post on the outside. Steve Smith is on the inside, with an out cut. I’m basically going over the top of him. It played out like Cover 4, which will usually come to our side, but by the time I looked back, because it’s a pretty deep post, Eli was already between the clutches of three Patriots. Quarterback in distress. But you always break your route off. So I just broke it off. That’s the greatest part about the play, that it wasn’t just me. Eli had a miracle moment also. Getting away from three different Patriot defenders. Stepped back, rolls right, look like Donovan McNabb back there.
I had no clue that the ball was on my helmet. I just knew I wasn’t letting the ball go. I knew I had it. At that point, I was just trying to secure the catch and get back to the huddle. Two-minute drill. You don’t want to waste any time.
NYT: You mentioned that early in your N.F.L. career your life was “out of order.” Could you explain what you meant by that?
DT: Alcohol was always there. The darkest days were probably in Syracuse with the alcohol. Obviously, you know how Syracuse is. Not a ton of stuff to do.
What ended up happening is I would have these terrible blackouts. At the time, you kind of rejoice in it. Who can drink the most? Binge drinking and acting crazy. The reality is, you can play it off the next day, but it’s still kind of scary. Not know exactly what you did before. Waking up freaking naked. Not knowing what the heck just happened.
So when I got to the league, I realized that God had something to do with me getting there. I made a decision to serve Christ, but I left my heart out of it. So there was no change. I wanted all the things that came with the N.F.L. lifestyle as a young man. The women. The money. I wanted all the glamour that was associated with it. Whereas I was very much on top of my stuff in Syracuse, from a character standpoint, that all began to unravel and unfold. Whereas I had great success on the field as a rookie – special teams rookie of the year, Giants rookie of the year. There was some awesome stuff going on, on the field, but internally, life was breaking down.
NYT: What do you remember about jail?
DT: I can remember vividly. I can see the picture in my mind. Me sitting in that holding cell, in jail overnight. My exact words were … I just had my hands in my face, and I said, “Lord, I need you. I don’t know what to do. If you could, I’d appreciate it if you could spare my job.” I didn’t know what was going to happen.
NYT: Your wife was pregnant again?
DT: As soon as I came out of jail, she sent me a text message. And it said, “I’m with child.” I was like, “What does that mean?” Is this King James’ version or something? But when I got home and finally spoke to her, she told me she was pregnant. But I already had a peace. I knew I was going to make some dramatic changes. I didn’t know that God was going to be such a big part of it.”
NYT: You visited her in Syracuse. What did she say?
DT: I put her through a lot. That’s a whole story in itself, in my years at Syracuse. She basically said she couldn’t do it anymore, and if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this. So I took one of those big old gulps, and I said O.K. She had a Bible laying on the bed. I went down to pick it up, and it’s the first time I could actually read the Bible and it made some sense. I started right in the beginning of Genesis. It wasn’t like fall asleep in 30 seconds. I just began to read.
I went back home, and I called every woman. I told them. “Things are about to change.” I left every girl alone. I got some rough reactions there, but it was time to change. During that week there, as the week went on, I might have hung out with her brother. That’s where I might have had my last couple beers. It didn’t taste the same. I put it down, and I never drank again. I never had a desire to. This was about two weeks from the event.
NYT: Did you have a drink of choice?
DT: The first time you drink, the porcelain God, you’re like, Ah, I’m never going to drink again. Then maybe eight months down the road, you try it again. By the time I was a junior in high school, I was smoking probably after every game. After every game in high school, I would have a 40, a half-pint of Jack Daniel’s, that was my drink of choice, and I would smoke a blunt.
Honestly, at that time, none of us in my house were saved. I wasn’t raised to go to church. The way my mom lived her life at that point was completely different from the way she left. She left a born-again Christian. She was always a wonderful mother. But at that time, she allowed us to be in the house. Her philosophy was she would rather us be at home, acting the complete fool, under her watch, than being out in the streets, doing the same things and finding trouble that was definitely waiting for us. I would never advise that. It’s horrible. But at the same time, that’s the way my house was. My house was like a free-for-all. All my friends would come. My sister’s friends would come. We’d be drinking, smoking. My mom, she smoked marijuana, too. This is stuff that’s eventually going to come out anyway. It’s no knock on her character, what she was able to do for us. As a mom, she was unbelievable.
NYT: Let’s talk about your mom, Thelma. Do you remember where you were when she passed?
DT: I was in a team meeting, preparing for the Washington game. It was Saturday. They just pulled me out. My wife is sitting there. She looks like she’s been crying. “What happened?” She really couldn’t get it out at first. She said, “Your mom …” I really didn’t hear that. I thought she was talking about her mom. She was crying while she was trying to get it out. She said, “No, your mom died of a heart attack.” Honestly, I didn’t know how to react. It was just a huge shocker, and it’s very unreal at the time. So for about five minutes, I probably just stood still and stared out the window and just contemplated, as it began to sink in a little bit. Then the emotion began to pour out, and the tears.
NYT: Had you found God together?
DT: I was the first one in the family other than my oldest sister. I got radically saved. I definitely had those crazy Christian moments, for sure. The Christian that you don’t like. “You need to get Jesus. You’re going to go to hell.” So on fire for God that everything that was coming out of my mouth was about Jesus. It really got to the point where it’s unhealthy. It’s not what God ever intends. So basically, my mom saw some dramatic changes. She was taking it like she had her own little baby steps. It wasn’t going to be the same for her. I had some bitterness about it, honestly, at first. Because I’m saying, “Can’t you see what God just did in my life? How could you still drink the wine?” I wasn’t doing those things anymore. “How could you smoke?” We definitely had a couple conversations here and there. As time went on, she began to grow. She became part of the church. But she didn’t really begin to flourish, to the point where God was surreal to her, until she got down to Florida.”
NYT: How often do you think about her?
DT: A ton. I wouldn’t say overly. Because I have peace with it. I have a tremendous sense of peace that she’s at rest. There are tons of reasons why. Once she moved down to Lake City, Fla., which was probably a little over three years, that dramatically changed her walk with God. It just goes to show you a change of environment can really help someone to blossom.
I have a great peace about it all. Her last words were: I’m liberated. She was on the bed. And that’s when they heard the thump. Her falling down. My aunt had a dream where the Lord took her to Heaven and she saw my mom. They’re kind of the spiritual rocks in our family. While we were over there patrolling the Devil’s den, they were interceding and asking God for our salvation. She saw my mom just dancing in a field of lavender. It was this particular place. So when you hear stuff like that, you just rejoice in what God has done. Not only is she in a place where there’s no pain, no sorrow, no tears, but God confirmed it. As much as I want to be selfish and not to say that this didn’t hurt, I definitely mourned. I gave it to God. I can’t be selfish because God loved her first. God loved her more than I could ever imagine. So when I try to look at it from a spiritual perspective, I have great peace about it.
NYT: Do you think back often to your story?
DT: What has occurred now has forced me to. I’m praying that I get the opportunity to do a book. It’s more than just a feel-good story. It’s not about David Tyree. It’s bigger than this Super Bowl catch. It’s about destiny and purpose for one person’s life. It’s about one man’s willingness to submit to a Holy God. From the moment I’ve done that, my life has been filled with miracles. When you talk about the restoration of my family. I’ve been to a Pro Bowl. Been to a Super Bowl. Won a world championship. Have beautiful identical twin girls on the way, a family of four.
NYT: March, right?
DT: Honestly, it’s going to be within this month. It’s likely going to be in this month, because twins come early. They’re going to have identical middle names. My mother’s middle name. Isabelle and Isabella. Hannah and Sophia will be the names. Thelma’s too ’60s.”
NYT: What can come out of this?
DT: You have to capitalize. This is obviously a moment of a lifetime. I do have a career wrapped up in all this.
NYT: Can you sum the experience up?
DT: I love being a New York Giant. Being from New Jersey, being able to play with my family and friends means the world to me. I would never desire to leave here. I’ll just see what God has in store. Being led by him is really what means the world to me. (He paused.) Make sure you mention Essex County. Essex County all the way!