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Underwood Ends Short Career

Dimitrius Underwood won't be juggling faith and football after all, at least not for the Minnesota Vikings.

The team said Wednesday that Underwood doesn't want to play, so the Vikings are looking for the best way to cut ties with the first-round draft pick who went AWOL after his first pro practice on Aug. 2.

This week, the rookie pass rusher blamed his disappearance on inner turmoil over sports and religion coexisting in his life but said after a conversation Monday with defensive end-turned-minister Reggie White that he wanted to return to the Vikings if coach Dennis Green would have him back.

Underwood flew from Philadelphia to Minneapolis and met with Green on Tuesday night.

The Vikings had planned a news conference Wednesday but instead issued a short statement that read: "Dimitrius told Coach Green that he has no desire to play football and has decided not to play for the Vikings."

The team added: "There will be no further discussion by the Vikings until certain other issues are resolved."

Chief among them are the financial implications of the team and Underwood parting ways. He could be waived, suspended or placed on reserve, and their decision will affect what kind of salary cap hit the team takes.

Although Underwood's future in Minnesota has been cleared up, several questions remain. Why did Underwood change his mind about his desire to return to the Vikings? Did Green actually talk him out of it?

Underwood's agent, Craig Domann, who sat in on the meeting between client and coach, didn't return phone calls Wednesday.

Green reiterated that the Vikings were never worried about nor distracted by a rookie who walked out on them without telling a soul.

"We don't want to focus on one player. We wouldn't want to focus on that one player even if it was Randy Moss," Green said. "Our football team wants to focus on the entire team. We're not a team that operates on one player or one coach."

Still, quarterback Randall Cunningham said that doesn't mean the Vikings don't care about Underwood.

"I just pray that whatever he does, God leads him and he does it from his heart," Cunningham said. "I don't know what he's going through in his life. I know that he needs a lot of godly people in his life and if he needs me, I'll definitely be there for him."

Although Underwood sought spiritual guidance from White, the NFL's career sacks leader who retired from the Packers last winter, he never pursued players on his own team who are noted for balancing faith and football, such as Cunningham or Cris Carter.

"I don't think I've ever talked to him," Cunningham said. "I've only seen him probably once or twice. We'd like to see the best for him, but as long as he's in God's arms, he's going to be OK."

Underwood, the 29th pick in the NFL draft out of Michigan State, left the Vikings without explanation one day after signing a five-year, $5.3 million contract.

He hitched an 80-mile ride to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and apologetically told his agent the next day that he'd had to tend to a family crisis and was on his way back to the team.

But once again, he didn't return and didn't call anybody.

A reporter from the Star Tribune of Minneapolis finally tracked him down over the weekend in a Philadelphia hotel lobby, where Underwood said he'd been torn between his faith in God and a career in professional football.

After speaking at length with White, Underwood said he'd decided to return to the Vikings, who had already begun exploring ways to part company with him rather than fine him $5,000 per missed day and give him another chance.

If Underwood is waived and claimed by another team, his new team would be responsible for his $475,000 base salary for 1999. But the Vikings would take the salary cap hit for Underwood's entire $1.725 million, partially deferred signing bonus this season, rather than a prorated one-fifth slice of it.

If Underwood weren't picked up by another team, the Vikings' cap number this year would be only $345,000, the 20 percent cut of his bonus.

If the Vikings place Underwood on the reserve-left squad list, suspending him without pay but retaining his rights for next year, the NFL Players Association would probably file a non-injury grievance claim on his behalf.

The claim would likely seek, among other things, his current signing bonus funds of more than $543,000, most of which was frozen indefinitely after his disappearance.

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