In motion for three weeks, Osi Umenyiora's retirement plans hit a crossroad when he recently received two offers.
He could continue his NFL journey as a player with a team that shall not be named, or he could sign a one-day contract with the Giants and retire with the franchise that he helped win two Super Bowls.
Despite trying to negotiate a two-day deal with Giants general manager Jerry Reese to no avail, he signed the latter. For one more day, Umenyiora became a Giant. But, of course, he will always be one.
On Wednesday afternoon, the defensive end, who ranks fourth on the Giants' all-time sacks list and first in forced fumbles, was feted at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center with a retirement ceremony that began with a video tribute in the team auditorium. The 33-year-old Umenyiora then delivered a speech in front of a capacity crowd that included former teammates, coaches, staff members, friends, and his wife, Leila.
"Effort is everything," Umenyiora said, echoing his own words that began the video. "I'm not going to cry, first of all. I made that decision early on. Watching that video and coming back and seeing all these coaches and everybody, it's tough."
Rather than talking about just himself, Umenyiora regaled the auditorium with stories about the three pillars of the organization: coach Tom Coughlin, president and chief executive officer John Mara, and chairman and executive vice president Steve Tisch.
"Coach Coughlin, I think you guys know the type of person who he shows you here," Umenyiora said. "The tough personality that he has, and a gruff coach or whatever. I had an opportunity to go down to Jacksonville, this was maybe in like 2005, and he was having an event there for the children. I went there and I walked into the ballroom, I was sitting over there looking around. In comes Coach Coughlin and he was all smiles, he was so happy, excited. The whole room lit up when he walked in there. And for me, I had never seen that side of him. I was looking like, what the heck is going on, who is this guy? But, come to find out that this is a great man and he's a very well-loved and well-respected man.
"So, l learned from that day on that you have to have different personalities to be in the NFL. You have to have a personality that you present when you're at work, and you have to have a personality that you present when you're outside of work. I really learned a lot from that day. He's a true inspiration to me. The New York Giants are lucky to have him."
In the wake of winning Super Bowl XLII over the then-undefeated Patriots, which was his favorite memory, Umenyiora suffered a season-ending knee injury that cost him the entire 2008 campaign and a chance to repeat as champions. After the ensuing surgery, Umenyiora woke to a familiar face.
"I can't say enough about Mr. Mara," Umenyiora continued. "I remember in 2008, when I got hurt. I was laid in the hospital and everybody had left, and I was just laying there. They had told everybody I was out for the season. I didn't know what was going on. It was about 9, 10 o'clock at night and all of a sudden I see somebody walking into the hospital. And I'm looking up, and I can't lie, my first reaction was, 'Is that Jesus?' That was the first thing that came to my head, 'Is this Jesus?' But no, it was Mr. Mara and he came in there and he sat with me for a little while and he talked to me. To this day, I will never forget that because it showed me what a person that he was. I wasn't going to be playing for the season, I was lost for the season. Everybody knew that. He did not have to do that. He didn't have to show that he was going to come in there and care for his player, but he did. I really appreciate that also. I love you, Mr. Mara. Thank you for everything you've done for me."
Photos Osi Umenyiora's top sacks
Umenyiora then brought the house down with a classic story about Mr. Tisch after the team won Super Bowl XLVI.
"There was an event in the city," Umenyiora said, setting up the audience. "It was a black tie event, you had to be dressed to get in. So obviously, I came, I was well-dressed. But I had a friend with me, he had on jean shorts and some sneakers. I guess that's just what people from Alabama do, I don't know. This is what he had on. So we get to the door, and they refuse to let us in, because obviously my friend wasn't dressed appropriately. But I wasn't going to go in without him. So I'm standing out there and I think word got to Mr. Tisch that one of his players was outside. So Mr. Tisch comes to the door and the manager proceeds to explain to him why he's not going to let my friend in. So Mr. Tisch sat there patiently and listened to him. At the end of it he said, 'Ok, this is what's going to happen here. You're either going to let this guy in or I'm going to buy this place and I'm going to turn it into a parking lot.' So they let us in. As I'm walking in, I'm thinking to myself, 'Did this guy just tell this man that he was going to turn this place into a parking lot?' As a player, you think you're the man, you think you're all high and mighty. Then you really see what high and mighty really is. From that day on, I said to myself, you know what,
Photos of Osi Umeryiora with teammates Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck
'That's what I want to be when I grow up.' It was really amazing."
However, all stories must end.
A decade of wearing Big Blue came to a close in 2013 when Umenyiora signed with Atlanta. He played the last two seasons with the Falcons, never missing a game while upping his career totals to 85.0 sacks and 35 forced fumbles. But during that time, his heart never left East Rutherford.
"I would literally be on the plane coming back from games -- and I loved my Atlanta teammates, don't get me wrong -- and we would be watching games, we'd be watching the Giants. I would be openly cheering for the Giants in a plane full of Atlanta Falcons. They would be looking at me, 'Is this guy out of his mind? What are you doing?' I just couldn't help myself. It was that Giant in me. So, there was no doubt about when it was time for to retire I was going to come here."
For the next chapter, Umenyiora is going home.
Born in London, Umenyiora will return to England to help grow the game in part of an initiative headed by Mark Waller, the NFL's international chief.
"That's the next phase of my life—be the next Michael Strahan of London," Umenyiora said of his longtime mentor and former teammate. "A little bit of broadcasting and a little bit of teaching the game to the people, whatever it is that they need me to do, I'll be out there doing. They haven't really said anything specific, they just said, 'We're taking you to London and you're going to be in London.' I'm going to have to go into an office every day. I don't know how that's going to work, but I'm excited about it. I'm excited about the opportunity."
Photos of Osi Umenyiora as a member of the Giants from 2003-2013