When the Giants step off the plane in London for their International Series game in October, they will be greeted by one of their own.
Osi Umenyiora, the retired defensive end for the Giants who climbed to fourth on the franchise’s all-time sacks list, is now an ambassador to London for the NFL. The Giants will take part in one of three games played across the Atlantic Ocean in the upcoming 2016 season, taking on the L.A. Rams on Oct. 23 in what will be the first-ever NFL game played at Twickenham Stadium.
Typically, London’s Wembley Stadium is used for the NFL International Series, which the Giants kicked off in 2007 with a 13-10 victory over the Dolphins in front of 81,176 spectators. Nearly nine years later, Umenyiora sees them more as fans now.
“I think back then people didn’t know what they were rooting for,” said Umenyiora, who had two tackles in the 2007 game before the Giants went on to win Super Bowl XLII that season. “I think everybody was kind of like, ‘Hey, we’re here.’ But I think now the fans have grown. They understand the game a lot more.
“Once you come out there, you’re going to see the whole stadium, [fans from one] team are going to be wearing Giants gear, the other team is going to be wearing [Rams] gear. It’s not just like a mixture of fans who were wearing different types of things. So it’s been crazy. The growth has been tremendous, and I’m excited to be out there working for the NFL.”
Born to Nigerian parents in London, Umenyiora found the perfect place to land after hanging up his cleats last August. He signed a ceremonial one-day contract to retire as a Giant and held a press conference at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center as former coaches, teammates, and staff members wished him well.
His old friend and fellow two-time Super Bowl champion teammate, Justin Tuck, will likely do the same in the future. Tuck, who played the last two seasons in Oakland, announced his own retirement at the beginning of February.
“Great teammate, great man, a better person than he was a football player and he was an outstanding football player,” Umenyiora said of Tuck, the only player in NFL history with multiple sacks in multiple Super Bowls. “Justin, to me, always showed up big in the big games. Whenever the big game was on, you knew Justin Tuck was going to perform. He’s a really good person. I’m happy for him. He pretty much embodies what it means to be a New York Giant. He’s great in the community, great in the locker room. Anything you could want from a professional football player, Justin Tuck was.”
Having gone through the process a few months before, Umenyiora gave some retirement advice.
“Find something to do immediately, right away,” Umenyiora said. “I think fortunately for me I was able to find something to do within like a week of retiring. I think that kind of kept my mind off of football because if you don’t have something to do -- your body’s like a machine, you’re used to doing the same thing for so long, and once it’s not there anymore, if you don’t have anything to dive right into, it becomes a problem for a lot of players. So find something to do, but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for him.”.
“The growth has been tremendous, and I’m excited to be out there working for the NFL.
As Umenyiora and now Tuck transition to their new lives, a new era in Giants football has begun.
Tom Coughlin stepped down following the 2015 season, and Ben McAdoo, previously his offensive coordinator, was hired to take his place as the 17th head coach of the Giants.
“I think we need to get better as a team,” Umenyiora said. “I think these last couple years haven’t been really good. Coach Coughlin was a tremendous man, a tremendous coach. I’m happy for him. I’m happy the way things ended out, and he’s going ride off into the sunset and do his thing. But it’s a new time, a new generation. I think Ben was the right guy for the job obviously. I think Eli [Manning] had a lot of confidence in him and the offense played pretty well. So he seems to have his finger on the pulse of the team, and that’s what’s most important.”
Earlier in the week, McAdoo announced his coaching staff, which included re-hiring defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
After leading a Super Bowl-winning defense that featured the likes of Umenyiora, Tuck, and Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, Spagnuolo was brought back for a second stint last season.
“Spags is a tremendous coach,” Umenyiora said. “I know that firsthand. I think you have to have good players also. Eventually things are going to turn around. He’s a brilliant man. He knows exactly what he’s doing, there’s no doubt about that. The players are going to continue to get better. They’re going to bring in some good players here also, and that’s only going to make everything a lot better.”