INDIANAPOLIS - Marion Manningham’s eyes were glued to her son as Eli Manning threw the pass. As the ball followed Mario Manningham to a spot where two defenders were closing in, with the sideline closing in, where the measure between immortality and forgotten was oh-so-thin.
And then one thought, as Manningham hauled in the catch, as both feet came down in bounds. “Thank you, Jesus,’’ she said.
Manningham made the catch that sparked the Giants on their winning drive, covering 38 yards and raising comparisons to David Tyree’s catch from four years earlier.
It wasn’t quite that good, or that lucky, or that strange. But it did make the difference in New York’s 21-17 win over New England in Super Bowl XLVI last night.
“That put us over the top,’’ wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said. “It was clutch and we made it at the right time.’’
Added Manning, “Great catch by him, keeping both feet in. That’s a huge play in the game right there, when you’re backed up, getting  yards, to the middle of the field. Big, big-time play right there.’’
Marion had spent this season preaching patience to her son, telling him his time would come, even as he faded to the Giants’ third receiver as Victor Cruz asserted himself. Manningham knew he was good enough to be higher on the depth chart, but he wasn’t healthy enough.
“I am very proud,’’ Marion said. “Just told him to be a little patient. He had a little injury, got him a little down. But you’ve got to bounce back from that. You’re a man.’’
There was another catch she compared to this one, one back in high school. But ultimately, that catch got a “nine’’ from the glowing mother.
This one? “I’m going to give this one a 10. Because it counted,’’ Marion said.
It was on an earlier drive that Manning targeted Manningham. But he’d thrown that one too far out of bounds, had thrown it where Manningham had no chance to catch it. Manning took the blame.
“I said, ‘Where’s your ballerina shoes?’ Normally he would catch it on his toes,’’ Marion said. He didn’t. Given this season, a frustrating one for the wide receiver who now heads into free agency, every missed opportunity seemed like it meant another wouldn’t come.
But they did. With 3:46 left and the Giants on their 12-yard line, Manning targeted Manningham at the 50. He needed to get New York away from its end zone, to get the team closer to a score.
Patrick Chung and Sterling Moore were on the coverage, but Manning snuck the ball in where Manningham could catch it and stay in bounds.
By that point, Manningham was ready, was waiting, to be the one to make the play. The Giants trailed, 17-15, with time dwindling. So he and Cruz discussed the fact that someone had to do something.
“One of us is going to have to make a big play,’’ Manningham said. “We didn’t know when, though. So you bite your tongue, be patient, and know the ball is going to come to you.’’
He felt no pressure. And then it happened. The ball came to him, and he made the play, he got his feet down. And though the play was challenged by the Patriots, it stood up on replay.
“Eli just threw a perfect ball,’’ Manningham said. “I knew I had my feet in. But I just didn’t know if the refs were going to try some funny stuff.’’
And Manningham downplayed any similarity to the Tyree situation. His catch wasn’t as difficult, he said, wasn’t as important, wasn’t as big. His catch wasn’t the one from four years ago.
“It was just a catch. I didn’t catch it like this,’’ Manningham said, mimicking Tyree’s reception. “We work on that all the time, man, the sideline catch, a fade. We work on our footwork all the time.’’
The Giants picked up on the fact that that pass might be open to them throughout the game. And so, at that point, they went for it. They thought it might just work against the Cover-2 that the Patriots were playing.
“It took great concentration because it was over the shoulder, and to be able to know that he had to keep his feet in because it was right along the sideline,’’ offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. “He not only had to catch the ball, keep his feet in bounds, he was going to hold onto the ball right after he got hit. So it was a tremendous play by him.’’
He had been waiting for that, knowing he was capable of such a catch. He had been listening to his mother’s message all season. And he came through.
“You’ve just got to be patience, got to find it deep in yourself,’’ Manningham said. “Just look at something positive, be patient. You don’t know when the ball is going to come to you.’’