Osi Umenyiora remembers the cookies.
Hand-delivered, every Friday, by Steve Spagnuolo, freshly-baked by his wife, Maria. Defensive players would devour the homemade treats. Then, on the weekend, they would feast on opposing quarterbacks, turned loose by their personable and popular coordinator.
That was in 2007, Spagnuolo’s first year with the Giants, a season that ended with his vice-grip defense laying waste to Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII — one of the most significant upsets in NFL history, given that the Patriots were one win away from a perfect, undefeated season.
All these years later, Spagnuolo is at it again. His winding road took him from the Giants to his first and only full-time head-coaching position, with the Rams, then stops with the Saints, Ravens, back to the Giants then finally to Kansas City — working for Andy Reid, the coach who gave Spagnuolo his NFL start in Philadelphia.
In 2019, Spagnuolo repeated the feat he first pulled off with the Giants — winning a Super Bowl in his first year with the team — but what comes next could produce the stuff of legend.
Spagnuolo, 14 years after he was the mastermind of a defense that brought 30-year-old Brady to his knees, gets a chance to do it again, as his Chiefs on Feb. 7 in Tampa prepare to take on Brady, 43, and the Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV.
“You know Spags is going to come up with all sorts of schemes to try to stop Tom Brady and that offense,’’ Umenyiora, a former pass-rushing demon for the Giants, told The Post from his home in London. “It’s crazy, Tom Brady is still there, because he wasn’t a puppy when we played him in ’07, he had been in the league for quite a while.
“I’m so happy for Spags. He was the best defensive coordinator I ever played for. We loved the guy. We loved playing for him. When you think about some of the ups and downs he went through, it hasn’t all been gravy. He kept his confidence the same way he kept confidence in us during our season. He’s still there, still as good as ever.’’
Spagnuolo, 61, is the only offensive or defensive coordinator in NFL history to win a Super Bowl with two different franchises. If Chiefs repeat as champions, Spagnuolo will go down as a Brady-killer.
“Of course he can pull it off,’’ Justin Tuck, a former Giants defensive end and team captain, told The Post. “The question is will he pull it off? He’s proven he can pull it off. I think Spags has the great fortune of having that type of offense, which most of the time allows him to play with a lead, and we all know how creative Spags can be when he can dial up blitzes or let his pass-rushers go to work.
“Yeah, I definitely think he can pull it off. Kansas City is my favorite in this game, for a lot of reasons, but the main reason is because Spags has been there, he’s played against this Brady kid before.’’
The first time he did it, Spagnuolo instantly turned into a head-coaching candidate, which is why his first stay with the Giants lasted just two years.
It is not hyperbole to stamp the 2007 Patriots’ as the most lethal offensive juggernaut in NFL history. They scored what at the time was a league-record 589 points, averaging 36.8 points a game. Brady as the NFL MVP tossed 50 touchdown passes — 23 to Randy Moss. Of Brady’s 398 completed passes, 112 went to Wes Welker.
“If you put that New England team in today’s rules, they might average 55 points a game,’’ Tuck said.
Much was made of the way the Giants hung in and battled the Patriots in the 2007 regular-season finale, losing 38-35. The Patriots had 390 total yards and 27 first downs. Brady’s passer rating was 116.8, he was sacked only one time and Moss broke free for two touchdown receptions. The Giants, though, did rough-up Brady, with eight quarterback hits, and that spawned the belief the Patriots could not handle what the Giants’ defensive front was capable of dishing out.
Spagnuolo kept his defense fairly vanilla in that game, but he went to school on the results. He noticed when he walked linebacker Kawika Mitchell to the line of scrimmage, Patriots center Dan Koppen did not respect the movement as a sign Mitchell was going to blitz, because Mitchell dropped in coverage all game. In the Super Bowl, Spagnuolo again walked Mitchell up to the line of scrimmage, but this time, he sent Mitchell in on a blitz and he got a key sack of Brady.
The prolific Patriots in Super Bowl XLII scored one touchdown in the second quarter and one in the fourth quarter — that was it. Spagnuolo’s defense shut down Brady to the tune of 14 points and 274 total yards. Of the Patriots’ nine offensive possessions, seven ended with a punt, a turnover or giving the ball back on downs. Brady was sacked five times. The bludgeoning allowed Eli Manning and the offense to need to score just 17 points to secure the victory.
“It was little things like that he was able to do, and mixing up coverages on the back end to allow us to get home, because Brady was getting rid of the ball really quick in that first game,’’ said Umenyiora, now a football analyst for the BBC. “And so Spags said to himself, ‘OK, we know we have a superior defensive line, all we have to do is get these guys just one extra second, one extra step to get there to get to the quarterback.’
“I remember one time [in that regular season] he came to the sideline and he just drew a defense up on the white board. He was like, ‘I see what these people are doing, so we’re going to run this.’ It was a defense we had never run before. He’s able to make in-game adjustments that quick, he’s not rigid in his philosophy. He’s just an outstanding coach. Coaches have the playbook, they have things they want to do, and if it doesn’t work they’re kind of screwed. But this guy drew up a completely new defense and said, ‘We’re gonna run this.’ It’s crazy.’’
Devotion to Spagnuolo from his Giants defensive players was rampant. Tuck and Umenyiora before games would chide their coordinator, asking if he was scared, asking if the offensive coordinator on the other team that day intimidated him. The two instigators would quote a scene from “The Waterboy’’ to Spagnuolo — when Bobby Boucher (Adam Sandler) suggested to Coach Klein (Henry Winkler) the way to get over his fear of the opposing coach was to think of something adorable.
“I’d tap him on the shoulder and tell him things like, ‘Spags, man, we’re gonna really need your ‘A’ game today,’ ’’ said Tuck, currently a vice president in Private Wealth Management for Goldman Sachs. “We used to tell Spags something like that to get him loose, because Spags could be a little uptight before games, and that’s something we were not. That relationship allowed us to play free.’’
Spagnuolo this time around against Brady does not have the firepower up front he had with the Giants — with Umenyiora, Michael Strahan and Tuck proving far too much for the overwhelmed Patriots offensive line. Chris Jones (7.5 sacks) and Frank Clark (7) are his top two pass rushers, but the Chiefs managed to get just 32 sacks during the season.
“They’re good pass rushers, great defensive players, but they don’t necessarily have the same skill-set that me, Osi and Stray had,’’ Tuck said.
With Patrick Mahomes’ brilliance rarely leaving the Chiefs desperate for points, Spagnuolo has some margin for error, and his defense responded in the playoffs by limiting the Browns to 17 points and the Bills to 24.
Tuck figures Spagnuolo will try to make Tyrann Mathieu the centerpiece of any mayhem the Chiefs inflict. The 2007 Giants did not have that sort of playmaking safety.
“There are certain things he’s going to have seen from Tampa, and he’s going to be, ‘This is how we’re gonna adjust, this is what we’re gonna do,’ and nobody knows exactly what that’s going to be except for him and the team,’’ Umenyiora said. “Tom Brady’s not going to have an easy time at all going up against that defense.’’
He didn’t have an easy time of it the first time around, going up against Spagnuolo’s Super Bowl defense.