I am going on vacation from August 16 through August 24, but we have some good “This Day in Sports” moments coming up throughout that stretch. Therefore, I am going to “observe” some of these anniversaries in advance.
August 19 will be the 10-year anniversary of a then-recently-retired Tiki Barber saying that Eli Manning’s leadership was sometimes “comical”. So often, it easy to say, “I can’t believe that it’s been so long since (fill in the blank) happened.” However, this one feels right to me. From a personal standpoint, I was more than two weeks away from starting my current teaching job in Ramsey, and I had gone to a Mets/Nats game at RFK Stadium the previous night. For me, that makes the Tiki quote seem appropriately old at 10 years. For Giants fans in general (and I too am a Giants fan), anything pre-“Helmet Catch” now seems like a long time ago.
When Tiki made his afore-mentioned comment, the Giants were coming off a disappointing 8-8 2006 season, albeit one that did yield a Wild-Card berth. However, an 8-8 season that began with a 6-2 start and ended with a playoff loss in Philly was not a good taste to take into the 2007 season. Furthermore, Tiki had been the core of the Giants but had retired after the 2006 season. Therefore, the Giants entered the 2007 season with a very questionable running-back situation and a quarterback in Eli who was still proving himself. As much as we Giants fans hated hearing Tiki ripping on Eli, there were many of us Giants fans (like me) who were not yet sold on him as a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. Of course, six months later, he proved us wrong, but I am not going to rehash every detail of the 2007 season right now. I figure I can milk several more “This Day in Sports History” columns out of the dream that was the 2007 Giants season.
A good Giants trivia question to ask your friends is, “What running back did the Giants sign as a free agent to replace Tiki Barber? Hint: He was also the sole tailback on the field when Eli went into victory formation for the last play of Super Bowl XLII.” While the 2007 Giants ended up having a good enough running game, this free-agent signee would prove to be essentially a non-factor. The season saw Brandon Jacobs splitting carries with Derrick Ward and later Ahmad Bradshaw, neither of whom was expected to contribute much at running back heading into the season. I will answer the trivia question later, but let’s just say for now that the signee was not exactly LaDainian Tomlinson. Yes, Giants fans entered 2007 quite worried about the team’s running game and its offense in general.
During that 2007 offseason, the Giants seemed clearly in a transitional place. What some Giants fans forget (perhaps purposefully) in their modern-day dislike for Tiki Barber is what an amazing player he was. In a 10-year career, he rushed for 10,449 yards and also brought in 586 receptions for 5183 yards. Furthermore, while most running backs are at their best early in their careers, Tiki spent much of his first five seasons (1997-2001) splitting carries with such greats as Joe Montgomery and Ron Dayne. In those five seasons, he logged at least 200 carries only once (213), in the 2000 Super Bowl campaign. Tiki had fewer than 1000 rushing yards during this first three years combined. In fact, in 1998 and 1999, he had more than twice as many receiving yards as rushing yards. In a league that was less pass-happy than it is now, the Lewinsky era saw him profile as more of a Kevin Faulk or David Meggett – a third-down safety valve for the quarterback – than a true workhorse back.
That mentality started to change in 2000 and 2001, as mentioned earlier, but 2002 was the year in which his Giants career took off. His annual rushing-yardage totals from 2002 through 2006 were 1387, 1216, 1518, 1860, and 1662, respectively. His receiving-yardage totals over that stretch were 597, 461, 578, 530, and 465, respectively. Very impressive stats all-around. Furthermore, in 2004 and 2005, he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage. Tiki certainly put up great stats (fumbles aside) from 2002 through 2004, but people did not yet feel great about making him an early fantasy pick. However, by 2005, he had put himself in the upper echelon of fantasy players. It was generally accepted by then that LaDainian Tomlinson would go first overall, but that Tiki, Shaun Alexander, and Larry Johnson were all viable #2 picks. This was, of course, several years before I first did an auction draft (Side plug for auction drafts: Doing auction drafts immediately makes your life 20% better. Once you do an auction draft, you will never go back to standard snake.).
Anyway, Tiki finished his Giants regular-season career (Week 17 of 2006) with a 234-yard rushing effort in Washington. (In that game, Manning threw for only 101 yards.) That effort gave the Giants a 34-28 victory that quelled the bleeding of a 1-6 stretch that had led into the game. Probably more importantly, this was a Saturday-night game, and the game destroyed the playoff hopes of several NFC playoff contenders waiting to play on Sunday. That is why, by 2008, the NFL made sure to schedule all Week-17 games on Sunday with flex timing, so that the maximum number of games would be meaningful.
Returning to Tiki’s performance….Giants fans obviously were grateful for his great game and great season. However, they did not like that he had retired while seemingly in his prime, so that he could pursue a media career. Having a running-back duo of Brandon Jacobs and the trivia answer did not please Giants fans. Furthermore, many fans did not like that he had announced his pending retirement midseason in 2006, potentially distracting the team (which endured a 1-6 stretch). Also, he had been critical of Tom Coughlin on multiple occasions, and Giants fans had grown increasingly weary of his “Me first” attitude. Therefore, when he joined the media in the 2007 offseason and took his afore-mentioned shot at Eli, Giants fans were done with Tiki.
I actually think that the combination of Eli’s two Super Bowl wins and the fact that Tiki’s media career did not take off as he had hoped (I am sure Tiki seethes watching Michael Strahan do every role that he probably desired(s)) would have made Giants fans come around by now to support Tiki. We fans would have remembered the ten great years Tiki had as a Giant, because time heals all wounds. However, I think that his leaving his eight-months-pregnant wife for another woman put him forever on Giants fans sh!t list. It takes a really really really long time to heal THAT wound.
And there you have it! It took me seven columns, but I finally wrote a “This Day in Sports” post!
Oh, I almost forgot – the answer to the trivia question is the venerable Reuben Droughns. Let’s just say that, aside from getting a Super Bowl ring, it was “sort of tough noogies for Reuben” as a Giant.