Osi Umenyiora hasn't played in the NFL since 2014 and currently lives in London, but he has become a ubiquitous figure in the current hype week leading up to Sunday's Super Bowl LV.
The pandemic has forced the media crush that traditionally descends on the game's host city – this week it's Tampa – to interview the players and coaches of the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers remotely. And Umenyiora, the former Giants defensive end who was a two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time Pro Bowler, has become a Zoom invader.
He has called into the group interviews of a former teammate (Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul), former coach (Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who first held the same position with the Giants in 2007-08) and the player he tormented in a pair of Super Bowl victories against New England (Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady).
When the moderator on Brady's call said, "We'll go to Osi Umenyiora," the six-time Super Bowl champion said, "My guy. I'm happy I'm not playing you this weekend."
Umenyiora then did some serious fawning over the widely acknowledged G.O.A.T.
"I got to be completely honest with you, Tom, I was one of the people who said, 'Some of this guy's success has been due to being in New England and being with coach Bill Belichick,'" Umenyiora said. "But you have absolutely obliterated that narrative and I'm so happy to see that and I'm so happy to see what you've done down there in Tampa. Let me get that out of the way first."
Brady responded with, 'You're coming clean, is that what's going on?"
"Exactly what's going on, I'm coming clean," Umenyiora said.
Umenyiora did not have any of the Giants' seven sacks in the Giants' victories against Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. But he did have five tackles and three of the 17 hits the defense was credited with inflicting on Brady, as well as a few near misses of his patented strip sack. Pierre-Paul played in the second of those games and had two tackles, one hit and knocked down two passes. Those two players, plus fellow defensive ends Michael Strahan (a Hall of Famer who sacked Brady in XLII) and Justin Tuck (2.0 sacks in each game) put persistent pressure on Brady.
"Now it's you against that Kansas City Chiefs defense," Umenyiora said. "Their defensive coordinator was the defensive coordinator with the Giants in 2007. How do you feel about that and do you see any similarities between the two teams?"
Brady didn't try to avoid the question as he did the Giants' pass rush.
"That 2007 game is one of my least favorite football memories, just so you know," he said. "Probably because I had a lot of you on top of me with grass stains on my back – you and Stray and Justin. You guys had a great defense. You were an incredible opponent that day and you deserved to win.
"I think Spags runs a great scheme and he caters to the strength of his players. I think his scheme has evolved. I've played him several times over the last 13, 14 years. He's a tremendous coach and everyone seems to love to play for him. I know he's going to have those guys ready to go. They'll be prepared. They have a lot of great players on that defense, a lot of veterans, a lot of guys who really understand football. Obviously, the moment is not too big for those guys. They've been on the biggest stage last year and they played a great game and beat the Niners to win last year's Super Bowl. So, it's going to be pretty tough. We'll be up the challenge. It's going to be a great game. I look forward to it."
Umenyiora signed off by saying, "I appreciate you, Tom. I'm really rooting for you guys. Go do it."
When Umenyiora's presence was announced yesterday on Pierre-Paul's Zoom call, the 11-year veteran started clapping and let out a long and loud laugh. They were Giants teammates from 2010-12 before Umenyiora concluded his career by playing two seasons for the Atlanta Falcons.
Repeating an inside joke, JPP began singing, "You have to lead from the front, you can't lead from the back" as Umenyiora attempted to make it duet.
"I miss you, bro," Pierre-Paul said.
"I miss you, too," Umenyiora responded. "I don't have any questions. I just want to say what's up. You know what to do." That elicited more laughter and clapping from JPP.
Their goodbye included a "much love" from Pierre-Paul and a "go get 'em" from Umenyiora.
On Aug. 26, 2015, Umenyiora returned to the Quest Diagnostics Training Center and retired as a Giant, for whom he had 75.0 of his 85.0 career sacks. He was a Pro Bowler in the 2005 and 2007 seasons, in which he had a combined 27.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles.
Since his retirement, Umenyiora has resided in his native London, where he is an award-winning football analyst for the BBC. He has been at the interview sessions prior to recent Super Bowls and this week is participating from across the pond – which is how he landed on Spagnuolo's Zoom this morning.
"You're supposed to be putting pads on, you're not supposed to be on the other end of this," Spagnuolo told Umenyiora, who told his former coach, 'it's great hearing your voice."
When Umenyiora and Tuck played for Spagnuolo, they had an odd custom for ensuring their coordinator was prepared for the game by asking him a pointed question. Umenyiora revived the ritual long-distance.
"I'm not there to see you face-to-face, but we have to continue our tradition that Justin and me would always continue," Umenyiora said. "I gotta ask you right now, 'You're not scared are you, Spags?'"
"No, we don't get scared, you know that," said Spagnuolo, who is hoping to win his second Super Bowl in a row and third overall. "You guys used to kid me about that. That's okay, I took it every time. It used to get us going – that was a good thing."
View photos of former Giants and current Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
Umenyiora told Spagnuolo he very much likes two of the Chiefs' defensive linemen in Chris Jones and Frank Clark. He also added a caveat.
"Spags, that ain't Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, so what are you going to do to dial up the pressure to get to Tom Brady," Umenyiora said, "because you know it affects this guy pretty well."
The always diplomatic Spagnuolo reacted as if he's fielded that question before.
"The game has changed a little bit from when we played back in '07," he said. "The quarterback we're playing is the same – he's still as good. We'll try pressure-wise. But I think we've got to be on point on coverages and see what we can get out of our guys out of a four-man rush. We've called upon our D-line to do that in other games and done a nice job.
"I think protection-wise, they're so multiple. It's hard to overload and do certain things we used to be able to do way back when. Maybe you can't get to those now. Tom is really good at identifying things like motions. He gathers all that information and then spits it out and puts them in the right place. It's going to be man-on-man. Out of our 11 versus their 11, can we have more guys on point every play than they do? If we do that, we have a good chance of being successful. If it's the other way around, we'll have a tougher day."
Umenyiora noted that two of the coaches on Spagnuolo's staff are Sam Madison, a cornerback on the Super Bowl XLII team, and David Merritt, who was a Giants assistant coach for 14 seasons, "so I'm really rooting for you guys. … I always rooted for you. I love you to death. I hope you guys win."
But didn't he tell Brady he was pulling for him? Yes, and he admitted as much to Spagnuolo.
"Tampa Bay has JPP, who's a good friend of mine," Umenyiora said. "And I spoke to Tom Brady yesterday for the first time ever and I kind of fell in love with him. So, I'm kind of rooting for them, too. Give me some advice."
"Try to steer you in the KC direction?" Spagnuolo said. "I'm proud to be in the game, going against a guy like Tom Brady. I feel like both teams feel we're proud to be going against each other. It's two really good football teams, two great head coaches (Andy Reid and Bruce Arians) – go on down the line with everything. It will be exciting. The competition is what we all thrive for. There will be a lot of competitors out there on the field on Sunday."
View photos of former Giants and current Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.