On August 11, nearly a full month before the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos kicked off the 2016 NFL season, Osi Umenyiora sat down and said the New York Giants are going to the Super Bowl.
His comment appeared tongue-in-cheek, yet Umenyiora, who spent nine years with the Giants, was never going to say anyone else.
Listen very closely, however, and you will begin to hear those two famous words uttered around East Rutherford.
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The Giants are 2-0 through two weeks of the season, helped by some impressive play from the defensive line and an offence bolstered by the arrival of Sterling Shepard and return of Victor Cruz.
Umenyiora’s delivery was that of a man joking around, but maybe he was being deadly serious.
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The former defensive end is speaking at a preview event for Madden 17 in London. He didn’t play the video game much during his time (“I was basically with the FIFA crew”), yet still has some interesting stories.
“When I started playing I was actually pretty good at Madden,” he says. “And then the more the game evolved, the more realistic it became, the worse I got as a player. Right now I’m horrible at it!”
Umenyiora signed for the Atlanta Falcons in 2013. He spent two years in Georgia before coming to the realisation that retirement was the best option for him in a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I do remember one instance, this was actually during a game, and this is how I knew I was really old,” he says. “I was with the Falcons at the time, it was my last year and we’re playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the receiver, the big receiver Mike Evans, I think after the play he saw me and he was like ‘ah I used to play with you on Madden!’.
“I was like, it’s time for me to retire right now.”
Fly route to Randy
Umenyiora takes umbrage to the fact that his Giants have a worse rating than the Detroit Lions and NFC East rivals Philadelphia Eagles in Madden 17. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he protests. “I don’t understand why they would do that.”
Yet the Giants weren’t even his go-to team when he picked up the controller.
“I used to play with the Vikings all the time, when Randy Moss was on the Vikings. It was so easy, you would just throw it up and he would catch it all the time so that was basically my go-to play.”
The topic of the NFL in London inevitably comes up and it’s interesting to hear an ambassador for the sport express his desire to see it grow beyond American shores.
“Really the reason why I’m out here is because I think it can grow here. There’s a brand new opportunity here, a brand new market.
“Americans and British people are different, but they’re not that different. I think they’re similar in mentalities in some ways so I think if American people enjoy football, I think people in Britain would enjoy it too if they truly understood what it was they were watching.
“Part of my job here is to ensure I can inform and educate people as much as possible.”
London-born running back Jay Ajayi is in his second year in the NFL after being drafted in the fifth round by the Miami Dolphins in 2015. The Boise State product had to wait until November of last year to make his NFL debut and was an healthy scratch in the week one defeat to the Seattle Seahawks earlier this month.
Yet there remains plenty of hope in Miami that Ajayi can become a number one back, something Umenyiora hopes can happen for the good of the game in Britain.
“He’s a good back,” the 34-year-old says. “We need him to do better though, because the better he does the better exposure it’s going to get out here in Britain.”
Beckham Jr. will draw the crowds
The Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Giants, Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals will all travel to London to play in the International Series this year, and it’s the turnout of Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. that has Umenyiora excited.
“That’s huge. Beckham is an international superstar and pretty much everybody knows who he is, so you get a guy like that out here who’s well-renowned and he’s a fantastic football player also.
“You put him as the face of the NFL, I think it’s a good thing.
What does the NFL need to do to further the sport in Britain? Let us know in the comments section below!