To mark David Tyree's recent retirement, The Fifth Down linked to Shutdown Corner's take on his signature accomplishment, "The Catch." How does that play rank with other iconic NFL plays? If only there were a way to put a number on how critical a play was toward winning a game...
Fortunately, there's WPA to give us the answer. From the win probability analysis of Super Bowl XLII:
+0.19 for Tyree’s catch
+0.41 for the TD pass to Burress.
Sadly, few will remember the 2-yd gain by Jacobs on 4th and 1 to keep the drive alive, but that play had a WPA of +.21. If Tyree doesn’t make the catch, the drive is still alive--it was ‘only’ 3rd down. If Jacobs is stuffed—that’s all she wrote.
Of course, there’s no good way to quantify the style points for Tyree’s miraculous grab or Manning’s escape from the sack.
It's too bad I can't get get WPA numbers for some of the other classic Super Bowl plays before 2000 without play-by-play data. Even if we did, the underlying model would be different due to the difference in the way the game has been played over the years. Still, if anyone wants to nominate classic plays and has the score, time, and down & distance info for the play, I can run it through the modern NFL model for an estimate.
In the recent decade, perhaps the Roethlisberger-to-Holmes 6-yd TD pass is the only comparison to the 'Catch'. But the Steelers already had at least overtime in hand, thanks to Holmes' previous 40-yard catch. It was that play that really made the difference--0.50 WPA compared to 0.38 WPA for the actual TD.
But for style, drama, narrative, and everything else, it's hard to claim the Manning-to-Tyree play doesn't take the cake.