Dimitrius Underwood mysteriously missed his entire senior season at Michigan State due to an ankle injury and was projected to be selected in the third or fourth round of the 1999 NFL Draft. However, the Minnesota Vikings sent shockwaves throughout the league when they selected defensive end with the 29th pick in the draft.
What exactly did the Vikings coaches and scouts see in Underwood to spend a first round pick on him? At 6’7″ and 280 pounds combined with 4.8 speed, he had the potential to be spectacular pass rusher in the NFL but his commitment to football was something that Minnesota seemed to ignore.
In his junior season at Michigan State, Underwood finished the season with 8 sacks, 57 total tackles, and 12 tackles for a loss. Before the start of the Spartans’ 1998 season, Underwood suffered an ankle injury and that is when all of the craziness began.
A few months after his injury, Underwood was reportedly medically cleared to get back on the field and play but he decided not to return right away. Instead, he decided that he wanted to come back later in the season and play but Michigan State head coach Nick Saban did not agree with Underwood’s idea.
Saban felt that it would be a better idea for Underwood to not play for the remainder of the Spartan’s 1998 season and instead return for the following season in which he would likely be able to play in all of Michigan State’s games depending on his health. Underwood may not have agreed with Saban’s decision, but choosing to not be involved with the football team and not to attend his classes while injured did not help the defensive end’s cause.
Instead of returning to play for the Spartans for another season, Underwood decided to enter the 1999 NFL Draft, another decision that Saban did not agree with. Saban had told Underwood that he did not feel he was ready to play in the NFL and that he was not going to be shy about his feelings on his decision when NFL teams would call about Underwood before the draft.
Underwood still went ahead with his decision to leave Michigan State and it seemed like a good one at first. With other teams around the league questioning Underwood’s commitment to football, the Vikings shocked everyone by spending their first round pick on the defensive end. Even more shocking is that Minnesota was not one of the fourteen teams that called Saban to ask about Underwood before the draft.
A year before, the Vikings selected a troubled wide receiver in Randy Moss and he did nothing but go on to set receiving records galore and be named Rookie of the Year. So why would Minnesota not be able to bring in another controversial player in Underwood and hope for similar results?
The Vikings would later find out that Underwood, unlike Moss, did not have the mental capacity to handle the everyday stress that comes with being a professional football player in the world’s best league. Underwood did not even play in an exhibition game for Minnesota, as a matter of fact he did not even play in a training camp scrimmage. Underwood lasted one day in the Vikings’ training camp before leaving the team.
Underwood was actually named as a missing person, as he did not contact anyone in his family or the Vikings organization to let them know of his whereabouts. He was eventually found by a Minnesota reporter at a hotel in Philadelphia where he had been staying for four days.
Why did Underwood decide to leave? Well the answer was simple if you asked him, he “couldn’t stand the cold weather (in Minnesota).”
The fact that Underwood would rather give his $1.75 million signing bonus back to the Vikings rather than play in the cold should have been enough of a reason for other NFL teams to stay far, far away from him. Unfortunately that was not the case as he was later claimed off waivers by the Miami Dolphins a few weeks after he vanished from Minnesota.
His time with the Dolphins did not really last much longer. During the season, Underwood was arrested for failing to pay child support and the following day he attempted to commit suicide by slashing his throat with a sword.
He was released by the Dolphins in December of 1999, but would later find another home with the Dallas Cowboys for the next two seasons. He played in 19 games for the Cowboys but was eventually released after attempting suicide for the second time by walking into oncoming traffic.
Where is Underwood now? No one really knows exactly, but searching his name on HelloPhiladelphia.com shows that a 37 year old (Underwood’s current age) named Dimitrius Paul Underwood currently resides in Philadelphia, PA.
Wherever he is, hopefully it somewhere where he is at peace. Before selecting him, the Vikings did not know that Underwood was suffering from depression or that he would later be diagnosed as bipolar. If they knew this, perhaps they could have given Underwood the appropriate tools and help that may have allowed him to succeed in the NFL.
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