INDIANAPOLIS -- This isn't what Osi Umenyiora wanted.
He wanted a new contract. He wanted his release from the Giants. He wanted to be traded, and was even given a brief window in which to find a suitable business partner. What he didn't want was to play for the same team under the same terms that he had for the previous five seasons.
But that's exactly what happened. And where did it land him? At the Super Bowl, where he is thankful for unanswered prayers.
"Could I have dreamed it? No," the defensive end said Tuesday, thinking back to what he was imagining while pedaling his stationary bicycle in a two-week standoff with the Giants' front office at the start of training camp, a time when he refused to practice with the team. "But things happen like that sometimes. It was rough, but at the end of the day we pulled through, I pulled through, and we're here."
It's impossible to say, but had Umenyiora been released or traded there's a good chance that neither he nor the Giants would be preparing for the big game on Sunday.
He may have wound up richer, but likely would have gone to a team willing to part with a high draft pick and looking to make a splash. Those teams seldom seem to find their way to Super Bowls. And without him, the Giants' defensive line might not have surged to life late in the season, escorting the team through the playoffs like a bouncer clearing the path for a VIP at a Super Bowl nightclub.
Perhaps the biggest decision Umenyiora made was to simply leave his contract concerns on that stationary bike to pedal for themselves. It would have been easy for Umenyiora to be a grouchy malcontent who did not enjoy playing under his current contract. That happens quite often throughout the league.
"The first thing he said when he came back was, 'I'm not going to allow this to be an issue, I'm not going to allow it to be a cancer in this locker room,' " Justin Tuck said. "I think he did a great job of doing that. That shows a lot about his leadership, a lot about his maturity as a person. He's done his part. He's played a great year."
Umenyiora said it would be "crazy" to go at anything less than 100 percent ahead.
"If you're going to step on the football field with grown men playing for their lives, you can't go out there and go half-whatever," he said. "You have to have tremendous pride in yourself and your abilities. The minute I made the decision to go play, there was no other way to play but the way I played."
He wound up missing most of eight games -- three after preseason knee surgery that had to be done when he decided he would play, and four with a high ankle sprain (plus almost all of the loss to the Saints in which he injured his ankle). But Umenyiora still had nine sacks during the regular season and has added 3.5 in the playoffs.
He said at the start of the postseason run that he was enjoying the experience more than just about anyone, a clear message that he was soaking in what might be his final days with the Giants.
"I'm happy to be here, I'm happy to be playing football," he said. "That's just the end of it. I'm not thinking about any of that contract stuff anymore."
But that dispute that he left on the porch when he walked in for this season will still be there for him to trip over when he walks out one way or another after Sunday's game. It remains unresolved, and there is a very strong possibility of this being Umenyiora's last game as a Giant. He has one year remaining on his contract.
"It could be," Tuck said when asked about this possibly being Osi's last stand, "but we're not going to even start to talk about that yet. We have at least one more ride to go and that's what we're focused on . . . Things will work out for him, we're not worried about that. But at least we have one more ride to go."