The 2011 New York Giants had a 7-7 record with two games left in the regular season. At that time, it would have been hard to find anyone outside of East Rutherford, New Jersey, who thought they were going to win that year's Super Bowl. Truth be told, the feeling probably wasn't even unanimous inside the Giants' building.
But as all Giants fans recall, the light went on that week. The Giants beat the Jets on Christmas Eve, beat the Cowboys for the division title the week after, then ran off four straight postseason victories to claim their fourth Super Bowl title.
A lot had to happen to make that possible. First and foremost, the Giants got healthy at the end of that season, with players such as Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora emerging from season-long struggles with health and keying the surge that culminated in Super Bowl XLVI.
With Umenyiora set to announce his retirement in a news conference at the Giants' team facility Wednesday, I thought it was worth remembering his contribution to that Super Bowl run.
Umenyiora played in only eight of the Giants' first 15 games that season but returned for the Week 17 game against Dallas and had two sacks in the 31-14 victory that sent the Giants to the playoffs. The following week, he had one memorable leaping sack of Matt Ryan in the Giants' first-round victory over the Falcons. He had two more sacks and a forced fumble the following week in Green Bay and a half-sack and four tackles in the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco.
A dominating defense was one of the things that elevated the Giants that December and January from a moribund .500 team into a champion. Players such as Umenyiora, Tuck and Corey Webster showed what it means for champions to reach deep inside and muster championship performance when it's needed most. Those guys didn't have a whole lot left, but when Tom Coughlin spoke to them in Week 16 and told them they could still win the Super Bowl if they won out, Eli Manning and the players who'd won the Super Bowl four years before felt something click inside of them.
Umenyiora's performance in that late-season and postseason run was critical to the Giants' most recent Super Bowl title. He wasn't alone, but without a month and a half's worth of vintage, disruptive Osi whipping tackles and harassing quarterbacks, the Giants don't win that title. As he gets his moment in the sun Wednesday, it's worth looking back and remembering what Umenyiora meant to two of the Giants' four titles -- especially the most recent one.