Osi Umenyiora reflects on facing Tom Brady in the Super Bowl:
HOUSTON – Super Bowl LI has released a confluence of memories and hopes for Osi Umenyiora.
The defensive end who is in the Giants' Ring of Honor has a history with both the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons. He and his mates on the defensive line helped the Giants defeat the Patriots in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, and he concluded his 12-year career with the Falcons in 2013-14. So on Sunday, he wants to see one of his former teams pin another Super Bowl defeat on Tom Brady and Co.
"I'm 100 percent rooting for the Falcons," Umenyiora said at Super Bowl Opening Night in Minute Maid Park. "It's a great organization, starting with (owner) Arthur Blank all the way down to (assistant general manager) Scott Pioli. I know them all. I actually know more people on the Falcons than I do on the Giants. All the people I played with (on the Giants) are gone. I know more of these guys, and I'm happy that they're here."
Asked who he knows on the current Falcons team, Umenyiora said, "The whole team basically: Ra'Shede Hageman, (Matt) Ryan, Julio (Jones), (Ryan) Schrader, (Jake) Matthews - a bunch of them."
If they happen to ask him for the key to beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl, Umenyiora has a ready answer: mercilessly harass Brady.
"It's the only way," Umenyiora said. "If you don't get pressure on him, you allow them to, number one, run the football, and then let him sit back there all day and throw. He's too good of a quarterback. You have to pressure him. Also, I think the Atlanta offense is going to put pressure on him by scoring points. That's the key for them."
The Giants never let Brady get comfortable in their Super Bowl victories against New England. They sacked him five times and were credited with nine quarterback hits – one by Umenyiora, who had four tackles - in their 17-14 victory in Super Bowl XLII. And in their 21-17 triumph four years later, Brady was sacked twice by Justin Tuck and absorbed eight hits, two by Umenyiora.
Before the first of those games, Umenyiora repeatedly spoke to his fellow linemen about the importance of punishing Brady, including a declaration at the pregame meal that Michael Strahan - "Osi, did you read the paper this morning?" - still laughs about.
Like many Giants from that team, Umenyiora cherishes the photo of Strahan, Tuck and him walking away from a prostrate Brady after yet another hit in Super Bowl XLII.
"It's cool," he said. "I have one of them. I think that just sums up how the Super Bowl went. Him on the ground with us walking away. Every time I see that I remember what we did or reflect upon what we've done. It was an amazing accomplishment."
"The first one, I said that to him," Umenyiora said. "The second time, I think that was understood. We already had the group after beating them. It was nothing we needed to discuss. We had a tremendous defensive line. We knew the game was going to be on us, so we just went out there and executed."
As was Umenyiora's career. He joined the Giants as a second-round draft choice in 2003 from Troy University and was so highly regarded, former general manager Ernie Accorsi refused to include him in the trade with the San Diego Chargers that delivered Eli Manning to the Giants.
Umenyiora played 10 seasons for the Giants, was selected to two Pro Bowls and is fourth on the franchise's career list with 75.0 regular-season sacks. On Sept. 23, 2007, Umenyiora set the Giants' single-game franchise record with 6.0 sacks of Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb in Giants Stadium. In 2015, he signed a one-day contract and officially retired as a member of the Giants.
"When I look back on it, sometimes it doesn't even seem like it was me," Umenyiora said. "It seems like it was someone else that all that happened to. There were amazing accomplishments in some of the crazy things we did. Especially winning those championships. That was just special. The further you get, I'm like, 'Wow, I can't believe I did all of that.'"
Asked what he's most proud of, Umenyiora said, "It would go the first Super Bowl, the Ring of Honor, the second Super Bowl, then the Pro Bowls."
Umenyiora, who was born in London, is currently the NFL's ambassador in the United Kingdom. He scouts players, promotes the game, and hosts The NFL Show on the BBC with Jason Bell, a former safety who played eight years in the NFL, including 15 games for 2006 Giants (he was on injured reserve in the 2007 championship season).
"We're just trying to grow the game," Umenyiora said. "I feel like in order to begin to grow it, we need to find a true international star player. We're looking for them, trying to develop and cultivate them as far as doing the work that I'm doing on TV."
Umenyiora and Bell will be the analysts on the BBC's live broadcast of Super Bowl LI.
"The interest there in the NFL is amazing," Bell said. "They have a good fan base. They have guys that have been around and have been watching the sport since the 80s. They also have all the new fans watching all the new guys. It's growing a lot. The games over there are exciting, fans show up. It's a great experience."
In 2017, four NFL regular-season games will be played in London for the first time.
"They're ready for eight," Umenyiora said. "The fans are ready. The games are sold out there, they're excited for the game and more knowledgeable. They're ready, so we just have to keep on doing it."