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Nearly 3,000 different men made NFL rosters this offseason in one way, shape or form.
Tiki Barber was not one of them.
He is “flabbergasted,” according to his agent, that teams were not busting down the door trying to sign a 36-year-old running back who has not picked up a meaningful pigskin in five years. He has “moved on accordingly,” says his agent, which is the PR equivalent of running home crying. He was the best offensive player for the New York Giants for a decade, and managed to burn so many bridges on the way out that people seemed genuinely gleeful as his life spiraled out of control the past few years. He lost his job, his wife, a chance at a Super Bowl ring and, perhaps, a chance at some real football infamy – not the gossip rag infamy he enjoys today.
Barber walked away from the Giants at the absolute apex of his career. By any measurement he was among the best at the position – his final three seasons, he scored 31 total touchdowns, ran for five yards per carry, averaged 137.8 yards from scrimmage per game, and racked up 6,613 total yards from scrimmage. Sure, he fumbled a bunch – nine times in those three years – but it was part of his charm. He was 31 and looked like he had several years left in the tank.
But he chose to stop. Look, you can’t fault a guy for walking away from a life of getting hit for a living. Barber is generously listed at 5’10” tall and was averaging 320+ rushing attempts per season. The NFL has changed – only five guys ran that many times last year, and none approached Barber’s 411 touches in 2005, his penultimate year. That’s a lot of hits, especially for a guy with ten seasons under his belt.
Barber had a lot of goodwill accumulated, and chose to throw it all away for a chance to be a talking head on TV. He killed his former quarterback just a few months before Eli picked up a Super Bowl MVP, alienating his former team. He left his wife for a hot young intern, destroying all his TV potential. Meanwhile, his twin brother continues to plug away down in Tampa Bay, and is putting the finishing touches on what will probably be a Hall of Fame career.
Which brings up the inevitable question – if Tiki is really, truly retired, with no chance of a comeback, what are the odds of him making the Hall of Fame?
Football statistics are by and large useless, and I say that with a deep appreciation for advanced statistics in both baseball and basketball. There are ways to calculate a player’s impact in the NFL, but the Hall of Fame in Canton has always seemed to operate on “feeling” – did that guy look like a HOFer? Did he play for winners? Did he simply accumulate stats? Did he change the game?
Barber’s biggest claim to a spot among the all time greats is his yardage – he is twelfth all time in all purpose yards, although he is only 22nd in rushing yards and is way down the list on touchdowns scored. The scoring is more a product of how bad the Giants were for much of his career, but the yardage is a testament to how good he really was with the ball in his hands.
If Tiki had stuck around for a few more years, who knows what could have happened. Another 3,000 rushing yards would have put him in the top-10 all time, and would have made the case for Canton a lot stronger. But if he had never dissed Eli on TV, maybe the Giants never would have pulled off their run to the Super Bowl.
Of course, if Tiki stuck around he would have caught Eli’s pass against his helmet and fumbled it immediately. Thank goodness he walked away when he did.