Counting down the weekdays to Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5 in Houston, we look back at the 50 greatest Super Bowl competitors from the ASN family of schools as calculated one year ago. Today: 25.
He owns a Super Bowl ring, but one that barely eluded his grasp haunts Adalius Thomas.
Thomas, a bruising linebacker who played a decade in the NFL in the early 2000s, was a footnote in one of the signature plays in Super Bowl history.
Playing for the New England Patriots, Thomas had a shot at Giants quarterback Eli Manning in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLII. Manning avoided Thomas, and two of his teammates, and heaved a pass to David Tyree.
Tyree’s famous helmet catch extended the Giants’ drive and led to the game-winning touchdown pass, as the Giants upset the unbeaten Patriots 17-14 and scuttled New England’s chance at a 19-0 season.
“When I see it, I almost get sick to my stomach,” Thomas said in an ESPN retrospective piece on the play from 2011.
Thomas was drafted in the sixth round out of Southern Miss by the Baltimore Ravens in 2000, the season they demolished the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. He played sparingly that season and was inactive for the championship game.
“I remember a lot about it, and had a great time, but it’s a little different when you’re playing,” Thomas said in a Boston Globe story leading up to Super Bowl XLII. “I can’t say (this one) is more meaningful, because it meant a lot to me to make it the first time. The first time you think about, ‘This is only my rookie year and this is all it is? I’ll be here a lot.’ And I haven’t until now, so it’s definitely a lot more rewarding now that you understand and you do savor all your moments.”
Thomas was mentored in Baltimore by All-Pro Ray Lewis and the Ravens’ other standout defenders. He was playing regularly by 2003, and was a Pro Bowl linebacker in ’03 and ’06. Between 2003-06, the 6-2, 270-pound Thomas recorded 282 tackles and 32 sacks. He scored three defensive touchdowns in 2005.
After the ’06 season, he signed with New England as a free agent. He added depth and value to the Patriots’ linebacker corps. He was third on the team with 82 tackles, and had 6.5 sacks, moving from inside linebacker to outside after Roosevelt Colvin’s injury in November.
Thomas might have been the Patriots’ best player in Super Bowl XLII. He sacked Manning twice, once forcing a fumble that took the Giants out of scoring range, and had five tackles as the Patriots allowed just a touchdown and a field goal through 58 minutes.
But on third-and-5 from the Giants’ 44-yard line, Manning avoided Thomas, and pulled away from rushers Jarvis Green and Richard Seymour. He hoisted a pass toward Tyree, who made a one-handed grab against safety Rodney Harrison and pinned the ball to his helmet as he fell to the ground.
Four plays later, Manning hit Plaxico Burress for the game-winning touchdown.
“I hate to relive it,” Thomas said in a Feb. 2015 Boston Globe story. “You’re one play away from history.”
Dave Fairbank is a freelance writer based in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @FairbankOBX.