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Umenyiora red-shirted as a 16-year-old freshman at Troy, then shuttled between tackle and end for the next two seasons. Coaches remember the day he found his groove: Oct. 19, 2002, the eighth game of his senior year. Troy was playing at Marshall, and Umenyiora was lined up across from Steve Sciullo, a future NFL draft pick who hadn't given up a sack in two years. The week leading up to the game, Troy defensive ends coach Mike Pelton taunted Umenyiora: "No sacks in two years."
In the second quarter Umenyiora sprinted around Sciullo and tackled quarterback Byron Leftwich. As Umenyiora ran to the sideline, he howled, "I got him! I got him!" By the end of the season, Umenyiora had a school-record 16 sacks and was an NFL prospect. "That game changed everything," Pelton says. "It was the moment he took off."
Back in Nigeria, no one understood. Umenyiora's mother, Chinelo Chukwueke, had never seen him play. His father had come to Troy to watch a game, but it was so cold he never got out of his car. His large family was just learning the word sack.
Though Umenyiora was not invited to the NFL combine in 2003, Giants G.M. Ernie Accorsi drafted him in the second round. A year later, when Accorsi was negotiating the famous draft-day trade with the Chargers for quarterback Eli Manning, San Diego asked that Umenyiora be included in the package. Accorsi refused. "It would have been a deal-breaker," Accorsi says. "There was no way I was going to trade Umenyiora."
In Umenyiora, New York found a book-end for Michael Strahan, as well as a soulmate. Like Umenyiora, Strahan was raised overseas, in Germany. And like Umenyiora, Strahan played college football in relative obscurity, at Texas Southern. "The more we talked," Umenyiora says, "the more we realized we are almost the same person."
With Strahan rushing from the left and Umenyiora from the right, opponents have not known whom to double-team. In Week 4 this season the Eagles assigned primary responsibility for Umenyiora to 6'6" left tackle Winston Justice, who was making his second start, in place of injured veteran William Thomas. Watching on television, Thomas was concerned. "When you're going up against Osi, he lines up really wide, about three or four feet away from you," Thomas says. "He gets down low in that sprinter's stance and takes a running start. If you don't get off the ball fast—really fast—he's already around you."
That night, Umenyiora was the next coming of Lawrence Taylor. He raced around Justice for one sack, then another, and another. The Eagles tried chipping him with a running back. They slid their protection toward him. But he kept finding quarterback Donovan McNabb. The 6'3", 261-pound Umenyiora got so tired from sacking McNabb that he needed an IV before halftime.
On the way to the locker room for the treatment, he saw Taylor standing on the sideline. The two had never met. Umenyiora nodded. Taylor nodded back. "It was an amazing moment," Umenyiora says. "It was like I had his spirit inside of me." He finished the night with six sacks, one short of the NFL record.
If there is a game that can inspire hope in the Giants this week, and fear in the Patriots, it is that one. But whatever happens on Sunday, Umenyiora will have another game to play. He is going to the Pro Bowl, and his parents are coming along. His mother saw him play for the first time in October, when the Giants faced the Dolphins in London. His father will be watching too—assuming, of course, it's not too cold in Hawaii.
After that, Umenyiora plans to return to Lagos and to Ogbunike. He will be greeted as a prince and a chief, but he is not comfortable with those titles. He prefers to be known simply as a Brit, an African and a Southerner, the havoc wreaker who comes at you from everywhere.