INDIANAPOLIS -- Many around the Giants never thought they'd see the sight they've seen the last month: Osi Umenyiora smiling, happy and, relatively speaking, content.
The summer holdout from training camp? Distant memory. The hissing match with GM Jerry Reese? History.
"I'm extremely happy,'' Umenyiora told me as the Giants continued preparations for Super Bowl 46 against New England. "Hindsight's 20-20, but at the end of the day, the best decision I made this year is to come back and play.''
Counting the season-ending win over Dallas, Umenyiora (who skipped his media availability Wednesday, leading to a $20,000 fine from the league) is on one of the best four-game runs of his career, and it's no coincidence the Giants have been terrific in those four games too. After missing time early in the season with a knee injury and then missing four games in a row in December with a sprained ankle, Umenyiora has 5.5 sacks and 12 quarterback pressures -- playing about 60 percent of the snaps in those four games -- in the wins over Dallas, Atlanta, Green Bay and San Francisco.
Want to know why Patriots left tackle Matt Light is as crucial a player as the Patriots have Sunday, other than Tom Brady? Because Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul line up mostly at right end. One of them will always be over Light. And together, in the last four games, they've combined for 33 sacks/quarterback hits/pressures. With the depth on the Giants' line, and with Umenyiora feeling fully healthy now, it's easy to see why Light, and whatever help Bill Belichick decides to give the left side of the Patriots line, will be a crucial factor in whether the Patriots can keep Brady upright and able to make big plays Sunday against the Giants.
Some history: Last offseason, Umenyiora felt he'd outplayed his current five-year, $41 million contract, especially after having 11.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles in 2010. The Giants told him if he could find a deal on the market with a team willing to give the Giants a first-round pick for him, they'd consider it. But no team came forward. Umenyiora then filed an affidavit during the players' contentious negotiations with owners for a new contract, claiming Reese reneged on a promise to give him a new contract. But once the new labor agreement was signed, Reese wouldn't budge, and Umenyiora, clearly disgruntled, reported to camp. He claimed he had a knee injury early in his time in training camp, and eventually chose to have the knee scoped. The relationship soured. And it was clear the Giants weren't going to do anything about the contract.
So Umenyiora, 30, decided just to go to work. Whatever happens after the season, happens. He'd still like to go somewhere and get one last rich deal, which the Giants are probably not going to do. The salary cap in 2012 will be nearly identical to the 2011 cap of $120.3 million. And giving a player coming off an injury-plagued year -- though a very good one when he did play -- $10 million or so per year when he's turning 31 during the season ... not likely.
Reese was peppered with questions about Umenyiora here Tuesday but wouldn't take the bait. Smart. The Giants are in a Super Bowl, and no one can win talking about distasteful history right now. But part of a GM's job -- at least a good GM -- is to assess where his team is on the cap, and to ignore the emotions of a white-hot situation in the face of pressure from fans and the media. Reese is good at that, as is Tom Coughlin.
Umenyiora's good at it too -- right now. He's not thinking about last August either. You can see he's in a good place, happy to be mentoring Pierre-Paul and taking another shot at a Super Bowl ring.
"At the end of the day,'' he said, "more money's good. But I can get money. Understand? This experience, really, I can't get. The way everything worked out for me, it's good. This experience is once in a lifetime.''
Twice, but who's counting?