The raised voices of a heated argument caught his attention. Standing outside his Brooklyn, N.Y. apartment house, Keith Manigault traced the shouting to the top floor of a four-story house across the street. Curious, the 26-year-old Wall Street messenger moved closer. The onetime tight end on the Abraham Lincoln High School football team didn't know it, but within a few seconds, on this bright morning, he would leap out of retirement to make the catch of his life.

"That's when I hear the glass break," he recalls. "I look up and I see the curtains hanging out of the broken window. They're yelling, and I'm wondering why everyone's going crazy. So I cross the street, and just as I'm at the curb I look up and see the baby coming down. She hits the third-floor ledge, and I'm moving forward, thinking, 'I don't want to see this and maybe I should cover my eyes.' But her hitting the ledge gave me time to put out my arms, making like a net. I catch her, and then she spins over onto the ground. When I pick her up she's crying but I know she's okay."

Street witnesses say 18-month-old Shaniqua Boone—daughter of Fred Purcell, 23, and Rhonda Boone, 22—dangled from the window, clutching the curtains for perhaps 30 seconds before losing her grasp. Her estranged parents reportedly had been fighting over custody of the toddler and, according to Rhonda, Shaniqua's distraught father had thrown her through the closed window. He fled the apartment, but shortly afterward police arrested him two blocks away and charged him with attempted murder. Purcell claims he is innocent.

Shaniqua escaped with minor cuts and bruises. She owes her life to a clutch catch by the man his friends know as "Shabazz" Manigault. Says Charlie Pravata, his high school football coach: "He always had great hands."