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Osi needs to wipe away distraction
In extensive annals of Super Bowl transgressions, Osi Umenyiora's shouldn’t really rank.
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He missed a midweek media session, which, truth be told, is most players’ fantasy. “None of them really want to be sitting over here doing this,” he said Thursday morning, his tone being one of unrepentant nonchalance.
Let’s see: There was Stanley Wilson missing Super Bowl XXIII on account of being a cokehead. There was Barrett Robbins missing Super Bowl XXXVII on account of being, well, crazy.
But media sessions? Really? Even coaches have missed them. Marv Levy was famously absent for his first Media Day against the Giants (he said his driver got lost in Tampa) and was late for his last one, ‘94 in Atlanta. You know how the ensuing games went.
Still, few remember that Erik Williams, the Cowboys' Pro Bowl offensive tackle, skipped Media Day that same year. That’s because Dallas beat the Bills by 17.
And herein is the lesson or perhaps, a warning for Osi Umenyiora. Missing the session is no big deal — as long as you win the game. Lose, and the retrospective evaluation of your unexcused absence will make it symbolic of something bigger, something worse.
Of course, people may be too interested in the assignment of blame. Just the same, Umenyiora has played eight years in the NFL. He has played in a Super Bowl. He knows the deal. For a guy who doesn’t like talking to the press, he sure succeeded in making himself the story. And, yes, he detracted, at least somewhat, from the Giants' cause. If nothing else, he was a 24-hour distraction.
"Are you sorry?" he was asked.
“It cost me a lot of money,” he said. “I’m sorry about that.”
The NFL fined Umenyiora $20,000. That sounds like a lot for not talking to a bunch of sportswriters. But it’s commensurate with league philosophy. It’s not journalism Roger Goodell’s people care about. It’s pregame hype that’s sacrosanct.
“The NFL has to do what it has to do to protect the brand, to get the product to the people,” Umenyiora said. “So I understood why they fined me. . . . If it was a thousand dollar fine, most guys would laugh at that. They wouldn’t even come downstairs to talk.”
All true. More disingenuous, however, was Umenyiora’s explanation for missing the session. “Honest mistake,” he declared. “We had just went through the whole media day the day before, so I wasn’t sure that this was mandatory, so I went to hang out with my family.”
Somehow, the other 52 Giants and all 53 Patriots knew attendance was mandatory. And most of them didn’t even have Super Bowl experience. They must be quick learners.
“We weren’t pleased,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin.
“He hasn’t spoken to me yet,” Umenyiora said of Coughlin. “But I would imagine he wouldn’t be pleased because he has to answer questions. Besides that, I don’t really see how it is that much of an issue. I didn’t miss any of his meetings. It’s not like I missed anything team-related.”
Team-related? Again, there was something curiously defiant in his offhand manner. "Didn’t you have a cell phone with you?" he was asked.
No, said Umenyiora, he left it in his room.
“Nobody cares,” he said, referring to his teammates, some of whom were busy answering questions about his not answering questions.
Now it occurs that, for a 255-pound defensive end, he’s not unlike that passive aggressive girl you used to know. His feelings have been hurt, dating back to the preseason. He said the Giants had promised to renegotiate his contract last offseason. When they did not, he staged a holdout. It lasted all of one day.
Then he hurt his right knee, an injury that kept him out until October. For Umenyiora, this year was considerably less than his last Super Bowl season. He had 13 sacks that year, including a franchise-record six in one game against the Eagles. That was Michael Strahan’s last season.
I asked him which Super Bowl team had a better defensive line.
“We had a Hall of Fame player on our team in Michael Strahan,” he said. “We don’t have anybody who’s close to that level right now. We have very good football players . . . but I don’t think were quite as good as we were simply because of Strahan.”
For all of Strahan’s deserved prestige, he was at the end of his career. Umenyiora was considered the still-rising star on that defense. He made the Pro Bowl, led the team in sacks and forced fumbles. Now the rising star of the Giants defense is Jason Pierre-Paul. Umenyiora is the “other” end.
I asked if he would have been less apt to miss his media session if he had a more favorable contract.
He laughed, tried to anyway. “What are you talking about?” Umenyiora said.
“It had nothing to do with that,” he said. “That’s hilarious.”
Maybe, but lose the Super Bowl and the joke’s on you.