"It was unbelievable," he said of recovering his forced fumble of Washington quarterback Jason Campbell and taking it 37 yards for a touchdown. "Now it's all in the past and we have a big game next week."
The past became Umenyiora's enemy after he made a seemingly normal step against the Jets in the preseason last year. His knee didn't cooperate and just like that, Umenyiora's season was over. Twelve days later, with Washington visiting for the season opener, newly retired Michael Strahan popped out of an inflatable replica of the Super Bowl trophy and the Giants Stadium crowd roared.
Umenyiora, so much a part of that Super Bowl run, was watching from his living room at home, crying. "I was happy for them," he said at his locker, a 23-17 win over the same Redskins team in the books. "But I was sad that I couldn't be out there."
Umenyiora jumped back to the future. "But things could have been a lot worse," he said. "I could have not been able to play ever again. So you have to find the silver lining in every situation."
There are very few athletes in the league like Umenyiora. He can power through left tackles, the crème de la crème of offensive linemen, or make them whiff while buzzing past. But while plenty other D-ends combine speed and power, Umenyiora adds one more precious quality. He can run down a good number of backs as well.
So when Umenyiora executed a play we've seen him do before – known as the sack, scoop and score – nobody among the 78,000 fans and bulging media was especially surprised. He went around Chris Samuels and with Campbell about to throw, slapped the ball from behind. Umenyiora picked up the football in stride and ran untouched to the end zone.
The Giants led 17-0 just 2:11 before halftime, and not even a shaky second half would deny the towel-waving a joyous sun-splashed afternoon.
"Come on," Umenyiora smiled when asked about getting caught, "no one was going to catch me."
But while Umenyiora had executed the sack, scoop and score once before, there was no comparison to his play on Sunday. This time he came through off a year layoff, no amount of preseason ball able to simulate the season opener against a tough division opponent amid 80-degree heat.
Justin Tuck, Umenyiora's bookend D-end, shook his head a few lockers down. "He's worked his butt off," Tuck said. "For him to go out and have a game like that, that's big. I know his confidence level went up a lot. That's big for him."
And of course it's big for a Giants team that can play into February with this defense. Watching Umenyiora on Sunday, the way he alters games and alleviates the burden from Tuck, maybe his absence last season had more to do with the team's late-season plunge than Plaxico Burress' untimely departure.
"The pressure he takes off our defensive linemen also," Tuck said. "You can't (measure) the impact he has on this team."
Tuck approached Umenyiora after the play and gave him an I'm-not-worthy bow. "He's back," Tuck said. "I'm praying to God he stays healthy this year because we need him. If he continues to play the way he did today, we'll definitely do a lot of damage."
Umenyiora was out of the locker room by then, already pointing to Sunday night's game at Dallas, an entire season in front of him.
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