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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Biggest play of Super Bowl XLVI belongs to unlikely hero Blackburn

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Blackburn comes up huge nearly 50 yards down the field. 'He [Brady] just threw it up for grabs.' (Getty Images)  
Blackburn comes up huge nearly 50 yards down the field. 'He [Brady] just threw it up for grabs.' (Getty Images)  

INDIANAPOLIS -- The story behind Chase Blackburn is ridiculous, the kind of thing that would make your head explode if we got into it just yet, so let's leave that for later and get into something else ridiculous, something else that could make your head explode. Let's get into the play that Chase Blackburn made that salvaged Super Bowl XLVI for the New York Giants, kept them in it, gave them the chance to win it late -- as of course they did, Eli Manning driving the team 88 yards in the final minutes for the winning touchdown in a 21-17 victory.

The touchdown drive was something else. Eli Manning was sensational, Mario Manningham backed up his abrasively confident talk early in the week by catching three passes on the drive, Hakeem Nicks caught two more, and Ahmad Bradshaw grinded out the final seven yards, plowing the final six into the end zone for the winning points.

All good stuff.

But not head-explosion stuff. Not Chase Blackburn stuff.

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And I'm not even talking about the job Blackburn was about to take in late November, a job I'll get into later, though I will give you a hint: Blackburn's prospective employer in late November wasn't the New York Giants. It wasn't any team in the NFL, or in any other professional football league. It wasn't in sports.

But enough about the old news. What about the latest development, the play that saved the season for the Giants?

It was a pass thrown by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and already your head should be tingling. Because Chase Blackburn isn't on the field to make plays against passes thrown by Tom Brady. Blackburn is a middle linebacker with very few responsibilities in pass coverage. In seven years in the NFL, Blackburn has intercepted three passes and knocked down four. Add that up, and that's seven passes defensed in seven years. That's one a year.

In other words, if Chase Blackburn is making a play, it's usually going to be on a running back, or on Brady himself -- on a scramble. Not a pass.

And damn sure not a pass 50 yards down the field.

What was Chase Blackburn doing 50 yards off the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI? Well, he was doing his job. On this play, he was given the assignment of tracking Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, and this play went haywire. Gronkowski was running a relatively nondescript pattern, a decoy as much as anything given his ankle injury. Brady was in the pocket, looking for someone, then seeing the pass rush, then spinning, stumbling, regaining his balance and slipping outside the pocket. All of that took quite a few seconds, and as those seconds elapsed, Rob Gronkowski did something strange. He started drifting down the field.

Drifting ... drifting ...

Soon Gronkowski was almost 50 yards away, near the Giants' 10, and Brady was looking for something to do with the ball. Seeing the 6-foot-6 Gronkowski way down the field, being defended by -- can that be ... a middle linebacker? -- Brady heaved it up for grabs. Bad ankle or not, Gronkowski will win that battle nine times out of 10.

This was No. 10.

CBSSports.com Super Bowl Grades
New York Giants
New York Giants
A
Eli Manning set the tone with a 9-for-9 start and finished with a 30-of-40, 296-yard, one-TD effort, which included a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. The defense buckled down against the Patriots running game in the second half and they managed to foil a potential winning drive from Tom Brady.
By Alex Raskin
RapidReports Correspondent
New England Patriots
New England Patriots
B
The Patriots played good enough to win a championship - for only eight minutes. Their impressive offensive run to close the first half and open the second half was nearly enough for a championship, but at the end of the day, the Giants receivers and Eli Manning were too much for the Patriots secondary.
By Paul Dehner Jr.
RapidReports Correspondent

"He just threw it up for grabs," Blackburn said of Brady. "I finally found the ball. I just tried to box him out and go up and get the ball."

Blackburn outjumped Gronkowski, which isn't all that shocking. Gronkowski's ankle, remember. It's not good. And Blackburn isn't a bad athlete. He's a middle linebacker, not a cement mixer. Anyhow, Blackburn outjumped Gronkowski and made what can only be described as a great catch.

Not a great catch for a middle linebacker. A great catch -- period. He went high for the ball, outwrestled Gronkowski for it, then hung on as they slammed to the ground.

Keep in mind, this was the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, and the play was unfolding on the doorstep of the end zone. If Gronkowski makes that catch, the Patriots have the ball inside the 10, already leading 17-15. Score a touchdown there, kick the extra point, and it's 24-15. The game is just about out of reach at that point.

Instead, Blackburn makes the play, the New England offense leaves the field, and New York still has a chance. And you know how that worked out.

But do you know how Blackburn got here? What he was doing in late November? He wasn't playing football, I can tell you that. He was working out, hoping against hope, but as far as he knew his career was over. After spending six seasons with the Giants, most in a reserve role, Blackburn and his wife sold their house after he was released before the 2011 season. They moved to Ohio, where he's from, to raise their two young kids. Blackburn was working out whenever he could, sometimes after dark because there are days when that's the only time a father of two babies finds to himself, but he was about to become a substitute math teacher. Why? Because his family needed the money. And because his NFL career was over.

And then, it wasn't. Two linebackers for the Giants, Michael Boley and Mark Herzlich, were injured Nov. 28 against New Orleans. The next day the Giants called Chase Blackburn in Ohio and asked, "Are you in shape?"

Yes, as a matter of fact, he was. Five days later he was starting at middle linebacker against Green Bay, even intercepting a pass from eventual NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.

Two months later Blackburn did it again, intercepting former NFL MVP Tom Brady. He also made six tackles, including a hit against BenJarvus Green-Ellis that was so vicious, he wiped out Green-Ellis and his teammate, Jason Pierre-Paul, sending Pierre-Paul to the sideline for a few minutes. But it was the pick that changed the game. It didn't win it, no -- Eli Manning and the offense won it -- but middle linebacker Chase Blackburn's acrobatic interception 50 yards down the field staved off defeat.

Makes no sense, of course, not even to Blackburn.

"I can't explain it," he said. "I just want to find my wife and kids to celebrate."


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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