Of all of the unpredictable turns Dimitrius Underwood's life had taken in recent months, what occurred last weekend was the darkest: Early Sunday afternoon, according to Lansing police, the Miami Dolphins' defensive end sliced his throat with two steak knives in the apartment of his girlfriend, Chasity Dyer, the mother of his 17-month-old twins.
Dyer and her stepfather attempted to drive Underwood to the hospital, but Underwood jumped out of the car about six blocks from her home. As a Lansing police officer arrived, Underwood walked back and forth on a red-brick street just a few blocks from the state capitol. Wearing no shirt or shoes, Underwood was soaked with blood from his neck to his waist, and he was shouting.
"You are Satan and you're going to hell," Underwood, 22, said to Lansing Police Department officer Teresa Eisfelder before being talked into an ambulance and rushed to a local hospital for emergency surgery, according to her report of the incident. "I want to be saved. I want to meet God," he also said.
The attempted suicide supplied the latest and scariest addition to the expanding mystery surrounding Underwood, the Minnesota Vikings' first-round draft choice in April who--in the five months before last weekend's incidents--fired two agents, missed three airplane flights, went into hiding, walked out of his contract with the Vikings and returned to football with the Miami Dolphins for a small fraction of what he would have earned in Minnesota.
Underwood abruptly left the Vikings after his first practice on Aug. 2, just 24 hours after agreeing to a $5.3 million contract and a $1.7 million signing bonus. He hid for six days from team officials, his agent and his family. A reporter for the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune found him in a hotel lobby in Philadelphia with a Bible in his lap and $8 in his pocket. Underwood told the reporter he had run out of money and begun sleeping in his car.
Underwood's actions defy the understanding even of his mother, his high school church minister and close friends. The long chain of bizarre events has turned Underwood's life upside down and raised questions about his emotional and psychological health. Those who have known Underwood for a long time say he is a soft-spoken, intelligent, trusting and likable person who rarely caused trouble and gave no indication he was veering toward an act of personal harm.
Some of those people also said it was clear Underwood was struggling with an intensifying internal unrest that may have commenced shortly after he arrived at Michigan State University in East Lansing in 1995.
'This Knife Won't Cut Me'
The inner tempest apparently erupted last Sunday, when Underwood began acting "strange, very confused and crying" at his girlfriend's house, according to a second police report that quoted Dyer. The report said Underwood paced around calling out "I'm not worthy of God." Dyer could not console Underwood, the report said, so she directed him to call his sister, Andrea Underwood, 26, who lives in the Philadelphia area. Dyer went upstairs to listen on another phone, according to the report, but returned to the kitchen when she heard Dimitrius Underwood say: "This knife won't cut me; I'm getting another knife."
The report said Dyer and her stepfather, Donnie Jones, who had been in the basement, found Underwood holding his neck, blood rushing everywhere.
"He's never carried on like this before," said Rev. Moses Townsend, the Underwoods' family minister during Underwood's teen years in Fayetteville, N.C. "I just want him to make it. He's come so far to lose it all."
His mother, Eileen Underwood, a computer instructor and ordained minister in Philadelphia, said she believed her son had been possessed by a "demonic spirit from the pit of hell." Early this week, she put some blame for her son's problems on the nondenomination evangelical church in Lansing he attended, but on Thursday she said in a release that her views had been misinterpreted and she was working with church officials.
She said Tuesday she brought members of the group she founded--the Willing Heart Ministries in Philadelphia--to help her son in Lansing. "I'm really in a spiritual battle right now," she said.
Underwood was released from Sparrow Hospital in fair condition on Thursday. He was moved to a hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he will undergo rehabilitation through next week, according to a man who answered the phone at the home of Dyer's parents. The man identified himself as Dyer's uncle.
The man said Underwood had suffered a deep stab wound to the neck. Underwood's agent, Craig Domann, said Underwood had some difficulty speaking because of a tube placed in his throat. Because of the family's requests for privacy, doctors at Sparrow Hospital declined to release information on Underwood's injuries.
The man identifying himself as Dyer's uncle said Underwood had been asking constantly about his son and daughter, Dimitrius and Jada, and had been planning to fly to Las Vegas with Dyer this weekend to get married.
"He just wants to get on with his life," the man said. "He's in real good spirits. He's not letting this stuff get him down."
In a statement released Thursday by Domann, Underwood said:
"Thanks to Jesus for allowing me to live. Without his hand, I would not be alive. I appreciate the love and support of my family, especially my mother, brother, sister, grandmother and Chasity.
"I am grateful to all the people across the country who have prayed for me, and I ask that they continue to keep me in their prayers. I am looking forward to returning to the Miami Dolphins. I am getting help and looking forward to a full and rapid recovery."
Last week, after expressing his support, Dolphins Coach Jimmy Johnson placed Underwood on the reserve nonfootball injury list, meaning his season is over.
Father's Death, Son's Grief
Dimitrius Paul Underwood is the youngest of Paul and Eileen Underwood's three children, following Aaron, 32, and Andrea. Born in Philadelphia, Dimitrius spent his pre-teen years in upstate New York. When Eileen Underwood was laid off from her job as an information specialist with IBM in 1990, she said, the family moved to her husband's home town of Fayetteville.
In Fayetteville, as Dimitrius was attending Townsend's church with his mother every Sunday and growing into his eventual 6-foot-6, 280-pound frame, his father was succumbing to leukemia. By Dimitrius's senior year at E.E. Smith High School, his father--who by then required full-time care--had been moved to Dimitrius's grandmother's house. Paul Underwood, formerly an insurance salesman, did not attend his son's high school graduation because he could not get out of bed.
Eileen Underwood recalled that, immediately after the ceremony, her son went directly to his father's bedside. Still wearing his cap and gown, he sat in front of his ill father, looking into his eyes.
Paul Underwood died at age 47, just a couple of months after his son had settled into school at Michigan State.
"He amongst all three children, it was the most traumatic for him," Eileen Underwood said. "He went away to college on a fabulous scholarship and he was there not two months and his father was gone. He cried from the minute he walked into the church [for the funeral] until the service was over. Big sobs. He made the whole church cry."
Dimitrius Underwood earned renown at Michigan State for being not only a star defensive lineman--he was honorable mention all-Big Ten Conference in 1997--but also the team's most dedicated weightlifter, a distinction for which he received the team's 1997 Iron Man Award. Dwayne Hawkins, a former Michigan State player who shared a dormitory room with Underwood as a freshman, said Underwood performed extraordinary workout routines, such as hours of repetitions of the same exercise.
"Nobody on the team had a body like that dude," Hawkins said. "He was like a comic book dude. Big muscles, no fat. Just a prototype."
But all that work seemingly went for naught when Underwood sat out his senior season with a high ankle sprain. Unlike other injured players, he did not attend games or practices. Michigan State Coach Nick Saban said Underwood decided not to play even after he had received medical clearance to do so.
"I thought the whole situation, how Dimitrius handled the injury situation last year, was unusual and the start of unusual behavior for him," Saban said. "He really chose in the end not to play football. That was kind of unusual in itself. I thought an agent or somebody else was involved. . . . In the end, I thought it was something in his mind that told him he couldn't compete, couldn't be the player that he thought he would be."
Underwood had grown more interested in his Christian faith throughout his time in college. As a freshman, he began attending services at Immanuel's Temple Community Church, an 11-year-old congregation with 700 members that was founded by Revs. Phillip and Patricia Owens.
Underwood called his mother during his junior year, she said, to tell her he had been born again. She said her Willing Heart Ministries brought 121 people from the streets of Philadelphia to the Lord last year, so the news from her son brought her much happiness.
Immanuel's Temple church services take place in a former union hall that is lined with metal folding chairs. This past Wednesday night, about 500 people jammed the hall for a nearly two-hour service that included ear-ringing hymns sung by the standing, swaying congregation.
Hawkins, the former Michigan State teammate and roommate of Underwood's, said the services had a major impact on Underwood. Previously, Underwood had read the Bible, but he rarely talked much about it, Hawkins said. Suddenly, Underwood began preaching about his faith.
But the Owenses and other members of the congregation said Underwood was not among the most dedicated members. Several said he attended sporadically. He had never contributed to the church before sending what Patricia Owens described as a "small" contribution last week.
The Owenses noted that Underwood was absent from this past Sunday's service--which occurred at the same time he was putting a knife to his throat. They said he never approached them for counseling.
"Dimitrius and I never had a conversation past: 'Did you enjoy the sermon?' 'Yes I did,' " Phillip Owens said. "Dimitrius has not entered into a parishner-pastor relationship with us. It's more like a drive-thru."
The Owenses said they weren't close enough to Underwood to know fully of his apparent distress. They were, however, surprised by an incident that occurred about a month before he left for the Vikings' training camp, which began Aug. 2. During a service, Phillip Owens called for those seeking salvation to step to the pulpit. Underwood came forward. He began sobbing so hard his chest heaved.
Owens said he placed an arm around Underwood to comfort him.
"Dimitrius needs, I think, a father image, but he's run from it," Owens said. "Even if you hug him like a father, he doesn't let you get close to him."
A Lost Soul
Even though he had not played in a game in more than a year, the Vikings selected Underwood with the 29th pick of the draft April 17. The choice surprised many observers (Ourlad's Scouting Services rated him the 13th-best defensive lineman available), but Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson said Underwood made a smashing impression at pre-draft scouting combines. "He's a very impressive young man to meet and visit with," Patterson said. "He was very smart. He asked a lot of questions. He came across as if football was very important to him."
For Patterson, it wasn't until mid-July, during a vacation with his family in Helena, Mont., that he detected anything peculiar happening with Underwood.
"Two weeks before training camp, he called me," Patterson said. "He hunted me down on vacation. . . . The conversation went straight from how I was doing to the Bible. He asked me, first of all, did I believe in God, and was my life right with the Lord. We had an hour-long conversation.
"Two days later we had the same phone call, the same conversation. There were four phone calls like that before training camp. That was my first inkling that change was going on in his life."
The discussions seemed positive, Patterson noted, and Underwood expressed no reservations about playing football. Underwood, however, apparently was undecided about signing his contract.
"He should have signed his contract two or three weeks before," said Moses Townsend, the Underwoods' minister in Fayetteville. "He wouldn't talk to his mother [or] brother about what he was going to do. I knew something was wrong."
To Townsend's surprise, Underwood caught a flight to Minnesota on the Saturday before training camp began. Underwood showed up at the Vikings' camp wearing army fatigues and announced that he was "ready to go to war." He signed his $7 million contract.
Monday morning, he was on the practice field, but the workout brought more difficulties. Underwood reported 16 pounds lighter than he had weighed on draft day, down to 268 pounds from 284. Underwood got so winded during practice Patterson wondered if he was asthmatic. Before he had a chance to ask, Underwood wandered out of camp unannounced and hitched a ride to the airport. He caught a flight to Philadelphia, where he hid for the next six days.
Once he was found, he met for 75 minutes with Reggie White, an ordained minister who had been an all-pro defensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. He then flew to Minneapolis to tell Vikings officials he didn't want to play football anymore. He ended up forfeiting the $1.7 million signing bonus.
"He said the Lord [asked] him: 'Did he have the heart to walk away from [$7 million?]' " Townsend said he was told by Underwood.
The man who identified himself as Dyer's uncle said he did not think religion had much to do with Underwood's choices. "When we talked, whenever we had a conversation, he was talking about the problems of money, how everybody's got their hand out," the man said. "He said, '[Expletive] it, I don't think I want to play football; I don't want to go through all these problems. . . . All of a sudden you got something and everybody's knocking at your door.' "
Blood and Sadness
Underwood decided to return to football with the Dolphins in late August. Upon arriving at the Dolphins' camp, having signed for $395,000, Underwood told reporters that explaining his actions "would be like Einstein trying to explain the theory of relativity to you guys. It would take all day and you still probably wouldn't understand it."
Underwood suffered a dislocated shoulder during the team's final preseason game, Sept. 2 at Green Bay. This past weekend, the Dolphins' bye week, Underwood returned to Lansing. He was arrested at 7 p.m. Saturday--the night before he attempted suicide--for failing to pay Dyer $1,425.84 in child support. The police thought it was odd that, when Underwood's $300 bond was posted by an unidentified woman at 9 p.m., he did not immediately leave the Ingham County Jail in Mason. He was too busy conversing with another inmate, police there said.
"At 11:45, we told him this is not a counseling center--go elsewhere," Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wrigglesworth said.
So Underwood left.
Thirteen hours later, in broad daylight, he was crying and shouting as he paced a street in downtown Lansing. With every step, he left blood, tears and unanswered questions in his wake.
Selected events from Dimitrius Underwood's life:
March 29, 1977
Dimitrius Paul Underwood is born in Philadelphia.
As a defensive lineman at E.E. Smith High in Fayetteville, N.C., Underwood receives honorable mention all-state honors.
As a junior at Michigan State, Underwood named honorable mention all-Big Ten Conference.
Underwood misses his entire senior season because of a high ankle sprain.
April 16, 1999
The Minnesota Vikings select Underwood with the 29th pick in the first round of the NFL draft. Underwood misses his flight that day to the Vikings' facility in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Underwood misses a second flight in the morning, and finally arrives at the Vikings' facility that night.
Underwood signs a five-year, $5.3 million contract with the Vikings and receives a $1.7 million signing bonus.
Underwood leaves training camp after the morning practice, hitches a ride to the airport and catches a flight to Philadelphia. The Vikings call hospitals and police stations, looking for him.
Underwood is discovered in the lobby of a Philadelphia hotel by a reporter for the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune. He has $8 in his pocket and says he has been sleeping in his car.
Underwood tells Vikings Coach Dennis Green he does not want to play football.
Underwood speaks to former NFL star Reggie White, right, on the phone and White, an ordained minister, encourages Underwood to rejoin the Vikings.
The Vikings release Underwood from his contract and Underwood returns the signing bonus.
The Miami Dolphins claim Underwood off waivers.
Underwood is arrested in Lansing, Mich., and held briefly in jail for failing to pay a $150 parking ticket.
Underwood meets with Dolphins Coach Jimmy Johnson, above, and agrees to join the Dolphins.
Underwood shows up a day late to training camp after missing two flights.
Underwood suffers a dislocated shoulder in a preseason game.
Underwood cuts his throat with two steak knives in the kitchen of his girlfriend's house in Lansing.