Osi Umenyiora shares memories of Linemate Justin Tuck

Posted Feb 3, 2016

Linemates Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck won two Super Bowls together with the Giants

SAN JOSE, Calif. – On Monday morning, Osi Umenyiora received a phone call from his close friend and former teammate Justin Tuck, who was about to announce his retirement after 11 NFL seasons, the first nine spent with the Giants.

“He called me and he was like, ‘Osi, I’m retiring today,'" Umenyiora said at a Super Bowl 50 event here. “I said, ‘No, you’re not.’ He was like, ‘Yes I am.’ And I realized he was serious. I said, ‘You know what, Justin? That’s cool. You’ve done everything you needed to do, you’ve proved everything you needed to prove. There’s nothing left for you to do. If this is what you want to do, go ahead and do it, man. We’ll be there for you.’”

Umenyiora, who retired after the 2014 season, had decidedly mixed feelings about the end of his friend’s career. He was proud of Tuck’s achievements. But he was the last active link to perhaps the greatest trio of defensive ends in Giants history, one that also featured Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Strahan.

“I felt a little bit of sadness,” Umenyiora said. “I was happy for Justin, obviously, because of all the things he’s accomplished, but a little bit of sadness. It’s really, really coming to the end of an era out there in New York. To see him being done kind of drove home the point that we’re all out of the league now. But I’m happy for him, he had a tremendous career.”

Strahan, Umenyiora and Tuck combined for 277.0 regular-season sacks for the Giants. They tormented Tom Brady in the Giants’ victory over New England in Super Bowl XLII. That was Strahan’s last game, but Umenyiora and Tuck were still harassing Brady when the Giants defeated the Patriots again in Super Bowl XLVI. Tuck’s 4.0 Super Bowl sacks (in two games) is the second-highest total in the game’s history, behind the 4.5 registered by Charles Haley (who played in five Super Bowls).

“Great football player,” Umenyiora said of Tuck. “The thing that I really liked about Justin is: Justin always played his best in the biggest games. You might not hear from Tuck, but when the game really was on the line, boom, there he was. He made so many big plays for the Giants, did so many great things in the community. Just a great person and a great man.”

When Tuck joined the Giants as a third-round draft choice in 2005, Umenyiora was a third-year pro. The two young linemen – who would each win two championships and play in two Pro Bowls - quickly became friends. Neither player finished his career with the Giants. Umenyiora played his final two seasons (2013-14) with the Atlanta Falcons. Tuck left a year later to begin a career-ending two-year stint with the Oakland Raiders. He played just five games last season because of a torn pectoral muscle.

Although they seldom saw each other, the Umenyiora-Tuck bond remained strong.  

“That’s my guy,” Umenyiora said. “Tuck is so funny. We’d make fun of him all the time; he was the captain, we kind of called him the company man, because he was the good guy. He was just such a fun guy and a good guy to be around. Really humble, really just a good guy. I’m happy for him.”

Umenyiora, who was born in London, is now the NFL’s ambassador in the United Kingdom. He was doing interviews for the BBC on Monday at Super Bowl Opening Night. Umenyiora is excited the Giants will return to London in 2016 (on Oct. 23 vs. the Rams), but his long-term goal is to be the general manager of an NFL franchise in that city. Former defensive back Jason Bell, who played 15 games for the 2006 Giants, is assisting him.

“It’s a wonderful experience bringing the game (to Great Britain),” Umenyiora said. “It’s like new. There’s not really a lot of us out there doing that, so to be out there working for the NFL, working for BBC, it’s been a great experience.

"The game keeps growing there. Eventually, hopefully, we’re going to have a team out there. My plan is for me and my man Jason Bell to be in the forefront of everything NFL out there.”

Umenyiora said his new job helped him quickly get past the disappointment of no longer playing. He hopes Tuck, who works with numerous charities through his foundation, also finds something to keep him busy.

“I had something to get right into,” Umenyiora said. “It was still football-related. I hope he has the same. He’s going to have a lot of things to do, a lot of options. There’s going to be so many things for him to do. For me, I got out of the game and within like a week, I was in London doing something that I loved to do, so it hasn’t really hit me yet. But I think he’s going to be okay.”
In October, Umenyiora and former teammate Chris Snee were among the four inductees into the Giants’ Ring of Honor.

“I still can’t believe it, honestly.” Umenyiora said. “I promise you, I can’t. It’s so crazy to me to think that I meant that much to the organization. When you talk about the Giants, this is the premiere franchise in football, and you look up in the rafters and you see your name there, it means I was one of the best to ever come through there. It’s unbelievable to me to think of where I came from, and to have meant that much to them.”