While Marist football hosted Stetson over the college’s family weekend, a familiar face could be spotted inside the McCann Center.
In a fundraising event for Millbrook, NY Veterans of Foreign War Post, former NFL defensive lineman and Super Bowl XLII champion Jay Alford was signing autographs to raise money during the game.
When most sports fans think of Super Bowl XLII, there are few things that jump to mind.
Many know the story; how the scrappy, underdog New York Giants shocked the world and defeated the previously undefeated New England Patriots.
“To me it was the best Super Bowl to ever be played… it had so much storyline behind it,” said Alford.
What stands out most are its unforgettable plays, such as David Tyree’s “helmet catch” or Eli Manning’s game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress. However, the finishing blow came from the rookie out of Penn State, Alford, who sacked Tom Brady with 21 seconds remaining.
So why was Alford at Marist?
His appearance can be credited to Marist security guard, Jeff Moseman.
Moseman is a Gulf War Veteran, who served four years in the United States Navy. After being honorably discharged, Moseman worked as a firefighter and a rescue worker at Ground Zero following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11.
Today, Moseman is the commander of VFW Post 9008 in Millbrook, New York. VFW is the oldest veterans service organization, with its origins tracing back as early as 1899. Their goal is clear; they want veterans to be both appreciated and respected for their service to the country. Each VFW post returns the favor to its veterans by protecting the men and women who once protected us.
“We’re very grateful that Marist Athletics is allowing us to do it at Tenney Stadium for a Marist Football game,” said Moseman.
With the local crowd of football fans, it’s likely that many call themselves Giants fans. The signing show will also benefit VetZero, an organization founded in 2017 by Tommy Zurhellen, a Marist professor and U.S. Navy Veteran.
Zurhellen is most known for his walk across the country to raise awareness for veterans in 2019, which he wrote a book about titled The Low Road: Walking the Walk for Veterans. VetZero is focused on doing the little things that matter for veterans, whether it’s giving them rides to medical appointments or employing homeless veterans.
For the second straight year, Zurhellen also organized Anthony’s Walk, a tribute to U.S. Marine Corps veteran Anthony Gray that took place before Saturday’s game. In 2020, Gray was murdered in Poughkeepsie, and the walk has been a great way to keep his memory alive.
The walk is 22 minutes around campus, representing the 22 veterans that take their lives each day, which is double the rate of civilians.
Moseman originally met Alford through another former Giant, Odessa Turner, who previously worked with Moseman at other fundraisers for veterans.
While Alford’s career gets remembered most for his Super Bowl clinching sack, there is more to his story than that.
As a four-year starter at Penn State, he would enjoy a successful career as a Nittany Lion. Alford was selected to the All-Big 10 team as both a junior and senior, as well as third team all-American as a senior. At Penn State, he played for legendary head coach Joe Paterno, who helped him grow both on and off the field.
“Joe was the father figure I had once I got to Penn State, he pretty much taught me a lot of characteristics that you need to become a man,” said Alford.
After his collegiate career came to a close, the New York Giants would pick him in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft, No. 81 overall. In New York, Alford had the chance to play for another notable head coach, Tom Coughlin.
“Tom Coughlin was cut from that same cloth, so the transition from Joe to Tom was super easy,” said Alford.
Hailing from Orange, New Jersey, it was a homecoming for Alford, now playing at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. It was nice for Alford to adjust to being a professional around friends and family at home, but it did bring on a new set of challenges.
“It’s bad, because now you’re around people and now you have an entourage and stuff like that. You’re not able to have any kind of free time because everybody knows where you are,” said Alford.
On the field, Alford contributed in any way he could. Playing time was scarce on a packed Giants defense, but Alford also found a way to contribute elsewhere. An injury to the team’s long snapper forced the Giants to find a replacement, and that’s where Alford found a way in.
In high school and college, Alford served as the backup long snapper, gaining him some experience at the position. When the Giants coaching staff began its search for a new snapper, Alford and fellow rookie Zak DeOssie stepped up.
“I did short snaps, he [Zak] did long snaps. I was his backup, he was my backup,” said Alford.
Throughout the rest of the year, Alford held down the snapping duties on both field goals and extra points. This included arguably the most famous kick in Giants history, Lawrence Tynes’ 47-yard game winner to send New York to Super Bowl XLII.
Playing the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on the famed “Frozen Tundra”, temperatures were as low as -4°F with the windchill bringing it down to -24°F. At the end of the fourth quarter with the score tied at 20, the Giants lined up for a 36 yard field goal to win the game.
“They called a timeout… usually they do that to ice the kicker and me being a rookie at the time, they iced me,” said Alford.
The snap was high, and despite holder Jeff Feagles best attempt at placing it, Tynes shanked the kick. Luckily, Alford would get another chance in overtime.
“They didn’t have any timeouts. So it was just like: snap, hold, kick. It was easy,” said Alford.
Alford delivered an accurate snap to Feagles, who placed the ball for Tynes to send the Giants to the Super Bowl.
There, they matched up with the New England Patriots. They were led by Tom Brady, who threw for 50 touchdown passes in the regular season, a record at the time. New England entered the game at 18-0, looking to become only the second team in NFL history to complete a perfect season.
The Giants had other plans, as Eli Manning led them on a timely fourth quarter drive, culminating in a Plaxico Burress touchdown. Manning’s pass gave New York a 17-14 lead with 35 seconds remaining. Was this enough time for Brady and the Patriots to tie, or even win the game?
Alford said no.
After a first down incompletion, the Giants sent pressure, like they did so often that night.
“Brady goes down! Jay Alford, a rookie!”
Announcer Joe Buck’s enthusiasm summed it up. Alford’s sack put New England in a third-and-20 scenario from near their own 15-yard line. Following two failed hail-mary attempts from Brady, Manning and the Giants would take a knee to put an end to one of the biggest upsets in sports history.
“Is it great to see it every time? Yeah, 100%,” said Alford, reflecting on the sack.
Alford followed up his rookie campaign with a solid season in 2008, appearing in all 16 games, starting three of them. Unfortunately, injuries starting in 2009 would put a premature end to Alford’s NFL career by 2011. He spent the next two years in the United Football League, and the Canadian Football League before retiring.
“Whenever I can come back and do my due diligence, to help out and raise money, of course I say yes,” said Alford.
Going forward, the Marist community can look forward to more veteran based events. On November 9th, Marist women’s basketball will take on West Point for the “Veteran Appreciation Game,” just two days before Veterans Day on the 11th.
In addition, Moseman hopes that this is one of many veterans fundraisers that his VFW post will hold at Marist College.
“I’m hoping maybe this year for basketball season at the McCann Arena maybe I can bring a retired NBA player in and do an autograph session,” said Moseman. “They [athletes] always take time for veterans… they have a special place in their hearts for veterans, a lot of respect.”
With Moseman’s connections and athletes’ willingness to give back, there may be many more professional athletes on the campus of Marist College for years to come.
Edited By Dan Aulbach and Marley Pope
Photo Credit: Emmanuela Panepinto