Dimitrius Underwood is getting a fresh start with the Cowboys
On a white-hot Texas afternoon in Wichita Falls last week, the
star-crossed career of 300-pound defensive end Dimitrius
Underwood took a turn for the better. In a drill on the second
day of Cowboys training camp, Underwood smashed into 277-pound
tight end Mike Lucky, bull-rushed him sideways and threw him
aside just in time to stop running back Chris Warren for no gain.
This was the play of a seasoned, confident player, not someone
who'd never played an NFL game--and certainly not of a man who a
year ago went AWOL in camp, was released by his first NFL team,
apparently tried to kill himself after another club gave him a
chance and then began treatment for bipolar disorder.
"You see that?" shouted assistant defensive line coach Jim
Jeffcoat, jumping into the middle of the action. "He base-blocked
[the tight end], held his ground and made the play. That's the
way you play off a block!"
Underwood, the second player with bipolar disorder that Dallas
has signed in the past year (the other, defensive tackle Alonzo
Spellman, earned a starting job last season), has lost 40 pounds
since joining the team in March. His performance in Dallas's
off-season workout program, minicamps and early camp practices so
impressed club brass that one of the four men who will have a big
say in roster decisions said last week, "Gun to my head, I think
he'll make the team."
Selected by the Vikings at No. 29 in the first round of the 1999
draft despite a lackluster career at Michigan State, Underwood
attended one day of training camp last summer before bolting. He
disappeared for almost a week, then surfaced in Philadelphia and
announced that he was done with football. The Dolphins talked him
out of retirement in August, but after injuring his shoulder in a
preseason game, Underwood was never activated. Then on a bye-week
trip to Lansing, Mich., in September he knifed himself in the
neck. Miami released him in December.
Underwood seemed unlikely to be heard from in NFL circles again,
until family members reached out to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in
March. "They liked how we handled Alonzo's situation, and they
asked me if we'd give him a chance," recalls Jones. "So I met
Dimitrius and his brother in Philadelphia. I could sense he
wanted to play football."
According to one team official, doctors in Dallas found the right
medication to treat the bipolar disorder, an affliction that is
characterized by episodes of mania and depression. At first the
medication made Underwood groggy, and he didn't want to take it,
the source says. But Underwood was persuaded to see he needed the
"He's come to grips with who he is and the condition he has,"
says defensive line coach Andre Patterson, who held the same
position--and worked with Underwood, however briefly--in Minnesota
last year. Underwood understands where he stands. "Being the last
of the litter doesn't bother me," Underwood, who refused to
discuss his bizarre past, said last week. "I'm happy. I took a
little hiatus from the game, but now I'm determined to make this
If it does, give an assist to Spellman, 28, whose bipolar
disorder reportedly led him to threaten to commit suicide after
holing up in a friend's house in March 1998. The Cowboys reward
their senior players with single rooms on the top floor of the
players' dorm at their Midwestern State camp. Spellman, by virtue
of his seven-year NFL tenure, had earned a single. But coach Dave
Campo asked him if he would give up the single to room with and
mentor Underwood. Spellman agreed. "It's going good," says
Spellman. "Jesus takes care of both of us."
Bill Belichick Redux
The Second Time a Charm?
In his first go-round as an NFL head coach, with the Browns from
1991 through '95, Bill Belichick was criticized in the media for
everything from his surly demeanor to his taste in practice
apparel. Although he still hasn't gone to charm school, he has
lightened up in his dealings with reporters and players--and he's
dressing a lot better. Last week, when he opened his first camp
as coach of the Patriots, Belichick showed that he's still a
tough boss: He cut one player (tackle Ed Ellis) and suspended
four others, all for flunking a grueling conditioning test. But
afterward he said, "Maybe it's my fault. Maybe I didn't get my
message across to those guys."
As one close Belichick acquaintance says, "That's a good example
of how he's learned. In Cleveland he'd have ripped those guys [in
Belichick, who went 36-44 and made the post-season once with the
Browns, also has entrusted offensive coordinator Charlie Weis
with far more responsibility than he did any offensive architect
he had in Cleveland. Belichick also believes that having owner
Bob Kraft on his side will be a plus he never had with the
Browns. "I feel much more comfortable and confident this time,"
says Belichick. "I know the program we put in place in Cleveland
will work here. We'll make adaptations, but a big difference--the
biggest positive, I believe--will be in ownership.
"I appreciate the chance Art Modell gave me in Cleveland, but
[the Browns were] Art's one business, and you can see how he's
run it. [The team] was $200 million in debt, or whatever. Robert
runs several businesses and has run them well. Philosophically we
think alike. When we disagree, at least you can see the
intelligence behind his way of thinking."
The End Zone
Dog Days Of Summer
A mutt from a trailer park near the Patriots' temporary training
site in Foxboro came bounding onto the practice field last week,
making a beeline for wideout Terry Glenn just after Glenn had
hauled in a long pass. The dog leaped and smashed his snout into
the nose of the football, popping it from Glenn's grip. The dog
then clenched the ball in its mouth, and by the time ball boys
had collared the dog and freed the ball, it wasn't worth using.
"This ball didn't have a little dog slobber on it," coach Bill
Belichick said. "It was dripping."
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Underwood, who has shed 40 pounds, made a strong first impression in camp with Dallas.
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS COVATTA Belichick has renewed confidence in taking the helm for the second time.
When Rams coach Mike Martz studied tapes of his powerful 1999
offense, he thought one player, wideout Torry Holt, could take on
a bigger role this year. So look for Holt, who caught 52 passes
for 788 yards and six touchdowns, to move from strictly an
outside receiver to one who runs more routes from the slot and in
motion. Don't be surprised if he has a 90-catch season....
A friend of Vinny Testaverde's says the Jets' quarterback would
like to finish his career near his Tampa-area home beginning in
2001 or 2002. That will be tricky. Testaverde, who turns 37 in
November, is under contract with the Jets through 2005....
The Redskins' Andy Heck, an 11-year veteran who started at left
tackle for Washington in '99, was held out of early drills with
a bad back and will probably retire by mid-August. That loss
would put big-time pressure on first-round draft pick Chris
Samuels to excel from Game 1 for the Redskins to be a Super Bowl
contender. "This team shouldn't worry about me," Samuels said
after battling Bruce Smith to a draw in a pass-rushing drill on
his first day of training camp. "I'll show them I can handle the
If 38-year-old Reggie White, who is likely to play no more than
one year, speaks the truth when he says he's coming out of
retirement because he wants another Super Bowl ring, why did he
pick the Panthers over the AFC champion Titans?...
New Packers coach Mike Sherman will do one key thing that
predecessor Ray Rhodes didn't last year: Demand that quarterback
Brett Favre play with more discipline, as he did in leading
Green Bay to Super Bowls XXXI and XXXII.