Originally created 05/08/00

Underwood tries to take small steps with Dallas



IRVING, Texas - Sprawled across a navy blue sofa, Dimitrius Underwood doesn't have a care in the world.

He's sound asleep in the middle of the Dallas Cowboys locker room. A morning practice is done and now it's the lunch hour. A nap is his favorite way to prepare for the upcoming defensive meeting and second practice of the day.

The serene scene doesn't seem to fit. All the public really knows about this 23-year-old lineman is that he didn't make it with two NFL teams and once slashed his own throat with steak knives.

Yet, here he is, three days into his first minicamp with his third team and .ƒ.ƒ. nothing.

He participated in every drill of every session. He was the left defensive end on the first team for two days, then joined the second team when an injured starter returned.

If you didn't know he was No. 91, you wouldn't have known he was there.

No news is definitely good news for Underwood. It's a sign he might finally be headed in the right direction.

About five minutes before the meeting, former Michigan State teammate Flozell Adams wakes Underwood by gently rubbing his head. Underwood walks to his locker and agrees to speak to several reporters who've been waiting for him.

"Things are going good, man, going good," Underwood said as he squeezed a foot into a shoe.

Good enough to talk about all he's been through and why things might be different this time?

"Nah," he said, slipping on the other shoe. "I just want to talk about football."

There isn't much football to talk about, though. Underwood hasn't played in a game that counted since 1997, his junior year as a Spartan.

An ankle injury forced him to miss his senior season, but he'd shown enough that the Minnesota Vikings took him 29th overall in last year's draft. Then they gave him a $5.3 million, five-year contract and a $1.75 million bonus.

Underwood bolted from training camp the next day and wasn't heard from for several days. When he resurfaced, he said his heart wasn't into football; he'd rather do ministry work. So the Vikings tore up his contract, got the bonus back and released him.

Underwood changed his mind again when the Miami Dolphins called.

He signed for $395,000 and no bonus and was offered the chance to sit out all season. Instead, he began practicing on a Tuesday and was thrown into an exhibition game that Friday. In the third quarter, he dislocated his left shoulder.

The bizarre case turned frightening a few weeks later when Underwood was found bleeding from his neck on a street in Lansing, Mich. Police later discovered he'd used two steak knives to cut his throat while visiting his girlfriend and their young twins.

Underwood went into protective care for two months, then committed himself to a mental health center only to flee hours later. The Dolphins gave up on him the next week.

In March, he signed with Dallas.

Underwood weighs about 310 pounds, 20 over his preferred playing weight, but it hardly shows on his 6-foot-6 frame. More evident is a fleshy scar just above his collar that serves as a permanent reminder of how close he came to never playing again.