"Ask any personnel man, any defensive line coach, any defensive coordinator if they wouldn't have taken the kid off of looks alone," he said. "This kid looked like he was chiseled out of stone. I never got any indication anything was mentally wrong with him."
Ferguson says all the Vikings had to do was call Saban, Michigan State's coach, who was telling anyone who would listen there were problems with Underwood.
Paul Wiggin, the Vikings' veteran director of player personnel, says it's easy to play the blame game.
"You win some and you lose some," Wiggin said of the draft business. "They applaud you when you win, say you're stupid when you don't. Our people felt the kid had a tremendous upside. I'm not going to second-guess the guys in the draft room."
The Vikings had good reason to believe they had an upper hand over any "problem" draft choices after stealing Randy Moss with the 21st pick of the 1998 draft after other teams had passed on the receiver because of character concerns.
Besides, if religion was Underwood's so-called "problem," the Vikings seemed the perfect fit with their Christian cadre of players led by Randall Cunningham and Cris Carter.
Wiggin says, yes, the Vikings were suspicious about Underwood's ankle injury last season and some incidents of instability in his past.
But, Wiggin added, they weren't drafting Underwood for monkhood.
"There are things that make players great that are not necessarily admirable qualities you'd want in a son-in-law," he said. "Let's be real. There's some animal in some of these people."
Viking Goes AWOL
It's difficult to fathom a life unraveling so quickly, a time line tracking from draft room to emergency room in a matter of months.
April 18: The Vikings take Underwood with the 29th pick in the first round.
July 31: Underwood signs a five-year, $5.3-million contract.
Aug. 2: On his first day of practice, Underwood ditches camp and hitches a ride to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, flies to Philadelphia, and is found four days later in a hotel lobby with $8 in his pockets. Underwood says he is torn between football and the ministry.
"Give up millions of dollars and go to work for God, it doesn't make sense to most people," he tells the Star Tribune.
The Vikings are not torn; they release Underwood.
Aug. 16: Dolphin Coach Jimmy Johnson, that noted bargain shopper, signs Underwood to a one-year deal for $395,000. Underwood appears to have found refuge. Asked if Underwood was a publicity risk, Johnson responds: "Bad publicity? For what? For being too religious? That's a new one."
Sept. 22: Underwood is effusive in an interview with Philadelphia Inquirer writer Mike Jensen, explaining that it was God's plan to have his football career transferred from Minnesota to Miami. "I was praying before the draft, I said 'Lord, put me somewhere warm.' "
He explains why he went AWOL from Minnesota: "I knew the backlash that would come with it; it's like telling your dad you wrecked the car."
Sept. 26: At 1 p.m., Lansing officers find Underwood walking down the street with a serious neck wound.
Not playing because of a shoulder injury, Underwood had flown from Miami to Detroit that weekend. Instead of taking his connecting flight to Lansing on Saturday night, however, he hired a limo driver, a woman who grew so concerned with Underwood's ramblings en route she pulled into a Lansing fire station.
A police computer check found a warrant outstanding on Underwood, who was delinquent on a $34 child-support payment for his 17-month-old twins.
Free to leave after posting bail, Underwood instead stayed in his cell and talked to another inmate for 90 minutes.
The next morning, according to police reports, Underwood and Chasity Dyer, the mother of the couple's twins, got into an argument at her Lansing townhome.
Dyer, concerned, phoned Underwood's sister. It was while on the phone that Underwood reportedly cut himself with a steak knife.
Questioned later, Underwood did not remember what happened.
Donnie Jones, Dyer's stepfather, drove Underwood to the hospital but, en route, Underwood jumped out of the car and was soon apprehended by police. Underwood reportedly said, "You are Satan and you're going to hell," and "I want to be saved, I want to meet God."
The days after the stabbing have been equally weird. Underwood's mother, Eileen, first said her son had been taken in by a cult, led by Rev. Phillip Owens of the Immanuel Temple, a nondenominational church in Lansing.
"There are controlling spirits in there," she told the Miami Herald.
Owens responded by saying Mrs. Underwood was "grasping at straws." He said he knew Dimitrius Underwood only professionally, but admitted seeing the player weeping at the altar, "almost like a little child."
Eileen Underwood, a Pentecostal minister, later retreated from her comments and issued her own statement: "We should both be on the same accord, rather than creating conflict caused by misrepresentation."