Eric Ogbogu recovers a fumble in the end zone, the only touchdown of his NFL career, helping the Jets beat Buffalo 17-7 in 1999. / Stan Honda/Getty Images
At a charity function in 2010, Eric Ogbogu wears a T-shirt saying 'Protect this house,' the slogan he helped make famous in Under Armour commercials. / Larry Busacca/Getty Images
The truth is, Eric Ogbogu has done a lot things well in his 38 years — star football player at Stepinac and Maryland; academic all-American; eight-year career in the NFL as a defensive end after being drafted by the Jets; Super Bowl commercial; executive now with Under Armour.
Add it all up and it’s clear to see why this Irvington-raised man was recently elected to the Westchester Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s amazing to be honored in that way,” Ogbogu said.
The truth also is, it took a lie to get this ball rolling, football that is. Ogbogu had to run a reverse around his parents, especially his mom Winnie, to begin playing the sport at Stepinac.
Both his mom and his dad, Louis, had forbidden him to play. His brother Fran had gotten hurt playing. But there was something else. Ogbogu had undergone surgery on his legs, and that made him a little frail to his parents.
“I had Blount’s disease as a child; I had severe bowleg,” Ogbogu said. “I had both my legs broken (in surgery) when I was a young child. I was in casts and didn’t walk for a long time. ... I wanted to play the sport so bad and she wouldn’t sign the permission slip to play.”
He moved on to cross country. But after a couple of weeks, one of his friends told him he was too big for this running game, that he should be playing football. So Ogbogu joined the freshman football team. School had already started. No one asked about the permission slip. Winnie was busy working two jobs, and Louis was away on business matters.
“Being that it was a Catholic school, it was either I had a track meet or I was helping a priest out at church or at school,” Ogbogu said. “That kind of was the way the lie went for about two years.”
Actually, he finally got caught at a JV game during his sophomore season.
“All you heard was, ‘Eric Ogbogu on the tackle, Eric Ogbogu on the tackle,’ ” he said. “I remember coming out at halftime and walking to the tunnel, and my older brother (Arthur), who was there for alumni weekend, was looking at me and was like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ”