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The Game I'll Never Forget: Brandon Underwood

Continuing an annual summer series, caught up with the members of the 2009 draft class to ask them about the game they’ll never forget. It could be a game at any level of competition that took place at any time. They’re all hoping their new NFL careers will give them new memories to cherish, but for now, these rank at the top.


*All athletes have that one game, that one contest, that ranks as the most unforgettable of their lives. It can be memorable because of a personal or team achievement, a dramatic finish, a sentimental moment, or any number of other factors.

Continuing an annual summer series, caught up with the members of the 2009 draft class to ask them about the game they'll never forget. It could be a game at any level of competition that took place at any time. They're all hoping their new NFL careers will give them new memories and new games to cherish, but for now, these rank at the top.*

Brandon Underwood had been to BCS bowl games before with Ohio State, but only as a bit player.

That made it all the more meaningful to get to a BCS game in his final college season with Cincinnati, as a key contributor at defensive back and on special teams in one of the most successful seasons in Bearcats' history, and Cincinnati's home victory over Pittsburgh last November was pivotal in that quest.

When the Bearcats knocked off the Panthers on Nov. 22, 28-21, it put them in control of their own destiny for the Big East championship and berth in the Orange Bowl. They clinched that berth the following week over a sub-.500 Syracuse team, but it was the win over Pittsburgh that had the Cincinnati fans storming the field and realizing their dream season might be heading somewhere.

"We had worked so hard since the summertime, and never had much success against Pittsburgh in the past," Underwood said. "Our whole goal was just to finish, and we basically knocked off every team that beat us the year before except UConn."

Indeed, Pittsburgh had been a Cincinnati nemesis, beating the Bearcats seven straight times. The previous year, Cincinnati led Pittsburgh 17-10 at halftime but was blanked in the second half and lost 24-17 to keep the frustrating losing streak going.

This time Cincinnati took control of the game and kept it, holding off Pittsburgh's rally from a 28-7 deficit in the fourth quarter. Behind star running back LeSean McCoy's 127 yards from scrimmage (82 rushing, 45 receiving) and two touchdowns, Pittsburgh pulled within 28-21 late and had one final chance with the ball at its own 34-yard line in the final minute.

On the last play, McCoy caught a 21-yard pass across midfield and then the Panthers began a series of laterals to stay alive. Already penalized once for rushing the field too soon, Cincinnati's fans prematurely came onto the field again as the Bearcats were trying to make that one final tackle.

"I remember seeing LeSean and thinking, he's not tired yet?" Underwood said of the extended final snap. "There was a time when they started doing the laterals where I literally thought he caught the ball and threw it to himself. I thought, man, this guy is all over the field.

"When they were running the play, half of our fans were on the field the whole time anyway. If our fans hadn't stormed the field, he probably could have seen that he had an open lane to just keep running to the left, and he only had one guy to beat. But all our fans were on the field, so he didn't know that."

It was ultimately Underwood who recovered a fumble during the lateral sequence to end the game, so the celebration could begin in earnest.

Underwood had seen plenty of McCoy in that game already. Among his five tackles, one was for a 1-yard loss on a run by McCoy that helped stall a potential Pittsburgh scoring drive after the Panthers recovered a fumble on a kickoff in the first quarter.

With Cincinnati protecting its lead in the fourth quarter, Underwood also snagged an interception and returned it 45 yards to the Pittsburgh 31. He recalled running over McCoy on his long return - "I purposely did it," he said with a smile - but unfortunately the turnover didn't result in points as Cincinnati was stopped on fourth-and-1 with 2:30 left.

Two weeks later, Underwood did the scoring himself. With the BCS berth in hand and playing at Hawaii to wrap up the regular season, Cincinnati trailed 24-10 in the fourth quarter when Underwood picked off a pass and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. That started a 19-point rally for a 29-24 victory.

{sportsad300}That game wasn't as significant from a football standpoint, but for Underwood, the trip to Hawaii was the first time the Ohio native had seen the ocean. And his family was in attendance to see his big touchdown.

"I caught the interception off a tipped ball from D-lineman Terrill Byrd, and I scored the touchdown right in front of my family," Underwood said. "After I scored, to look up and see my family there, that was a heck of a feeling."

So was finishing his college days in the Orange Bowl after costing himself his scholarship at Ohio State with academic troubles and transferring to Cincinnati to salvage his football career - a journey that continued with him being selected in the sixth round of the NFL Draft this year by the Packers.

The Bearcats lost that BCS game to Virginia Tech, 20-7, but Underwood had both a sack and an interception in the contest, far greater contributions than he had ever made with the Buckeyes.

"I had been to a couple BCS bowls, but with the exception of the last one, I had very little participation except on special teams," Underwood said. "Just to be able to be on a stage like that and play V-Tech was something special for me. To have a hand in the whole season we had, and to be an integral part of the game, was special."

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