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Osi Umenyiora reminisces about defense's performance in Super Bowl XLII


PHOENIX – Everyone on the Super Bowl XLII Giants team can describe in great detail what they saw when David Tyree made his famous Velcro-helmet catch to set up the game-winning touchdown against the New England Patriots.

Well, almost everyone.

"I didn't see that play," Osi Umenyiora said.

Well, that's not entirely true. The two-time All-Pro defensive end saw its early moments when Eli Manning was surrounded by the Patriots' defensive line and Richard Seymour got a fistful of his jersey. Umenyiora's thoughts turned so dark he couldn't watch what happened next.

"I saw them grab Eli, so I immediately put my head down because I thought the game was over at that point," Umenyiora said this week. "And then all I heard was the roar. I never actually saw what happened. I didn't even see the replay until I got home and saw what actually transpired." 

Umenyiora was here at the site of Super Bowl LVII this week in his role as an NFL international ambassador. Since concluding his 12-year career in 2014, he has worked in a variety of roles to help the NFL grow outside of North America. "NFL UK, NFL Africa – just doing a bunch of things outside of America with the NFL," said Umenyiora, who lives in London, where he was born. "It's growing. And we're happy about it."

This is, of course, the 15th anniversary of the Giants' 17-14 victory against a Patriots team that entered the Super Bowl with an 18-0 record.

"I can't believe it's been 15 years already," Umenyiora said. "It feels like it was maybe just a couple years ago. Excited, happy. I'm happy being here. There's so many good memories. It was a blast."

That's an understatement. Not only did the Giants pull off one of the great upsets and memorable achievements in Super Bowl history, Umenyiora and fellow defensive linemen Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield and Jay Alford harassed Tom Brady all day. The final tally was five sacks, nine hits and one very irate future Hall of Fame quarterback. 

"It was the key to the game," said Umenyiora, who had four tackles, one hit and recovered a Brady fumble forced by Tuck late in the second quarter. "I think we knew that going in. I emphasized that before the game going to Stray – let him know that there was literally no other way we were going to win this game unless we did what we did. And thankfully in the biggest game of all our lives, we all performed. 

"He was at breakfast just laughing, and I was like, 'Stray, you're laughing. If we don't perform in the biggest game of our lives, we're not going to win this game.' He'd never really seen me like that before, so when I emphasized that to him, he knew how serious I was. And we went to work."

View iconic photos from the Giants' Super Bowl XLII victory over the undefeated Patriots.

The Giants began turning up the pressure in the second quarter with seven-yard sacks on consecutive plays by linebacker Kawika Mitchell and Tuck, who led the team with 2.0.

What does Umenyiora recall most prominently about the assault?

"Just the number of times we got to Brady," he said. "Watching Justin Tuck get those sacks. And I was right there about to grab him. So, if Tuck wouldn't have gotten him, I would've gotten him. If I didn't get him, Stray would've got him. It was just the way the game unfolded. From beginning to end, we felt like we were in control of the game. We felt like we were going to win the game, oddly enough, even though we were severe underdogs. So, incredible time. Incredible game. I'm really happy to have experienced that."

That Giants-Patriots game was the first Super Bowl that matched the teams with the NFL's two highest sack totals; the 2007 Giants had 53, New England 47. The game tomorrow is the second such Super Bowl; Philadelphia led the NFL with 70 sacks, while Kansas City was second with 55. 

Umenyiora sees similarities between those Giants and the current Super Bowl teams.

"More with Philadelphia," he said. "Kansas City has some outstanding players. They have (defensive end) Frank Clark, (defensive tackle) Chris Jones, two great players. But when you look at the Philadelphia Eagles and their defensive line as a collective, they have four players on that line (Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham, Haason Reddick and Javon Hargrave) with over 10 sacks, which is very similar to what we did with myself, Justin and Strahan in '07 (13.0, 10.0 and 9.0, respectively). So, I would say you can look at them more as having a collective of pass rushers more so than Kansas City." 

Those fabled Giants defensive linemen – Strahan is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and all three are in the franchise's Ring of Honor – remain as close now as they were when they played. 

"We speak on a daily basis," Umenyiora said. "We've got a group chat. Somebody's putting something in that group chat every single day, so we're in constant communication with each other." 

In his current job, Umenyiora is particularly focused on finding NFL players in Africa. He lived in Nigeria for seven years as a youngster. In 2021, Umenyiora was one of the founders of NFL Africa, which is part of the league's International Player Pathway program (IPP). Through that program, the Giants signed tackle Roy Mbaeteka, who spent part of the 2022 season on their practice squad. 

"I thought I was just going to go chill," Umenyiora said of his post-playing career. "I thought I was just going to go sit down somewhere. I knew I wanted to work in the international space. And thankfully, I had made some connections during my playing days that allowed me to do that. I was born in the United Kingdom, so that was the natural transition for me to go out to the UK when I was done. Like a week after I retired, I was in London."

He still firmly holds his football memories. Umenyiora played 171 regular-season and postseason games across 12 years. He was on two Super Bowl championship teams. But it was one night in the Arizona desert 15 years ago that he treasures most.

"You can't compare anything to that from a professional standpoint," Umenyiora said. "Not only playing, not only winning, not only those circumstances, but having a direct impact on the outcome of the game. That was very, very special."


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