RB Tiki Barber has developed into one of the most productive backs in NFL history
It happened about four years ago, at some point not long after the NFL's 2001 season. That's when Tiki Barber stopped being just another running back and started being one of the most productive rushers in New York Giants history. Four seasons later – a span during which his lowest season rushing total was 1,216 yards – Barber has become one of the most productive backs in NFL history.
No other running back in league history has led his team in rushing for as many consecutive games as has Barber – 70 straight, a total that eclipsed Detroit Lions Barry Sanders' mark of 68, set from 1994-1998. If that accomplishment isn't impressive enough, consider that in each of the last three seasons, Barber's total yards from scrimmage have increased dramatically. And last season, his 2,390 total yards were the second highest total ever in the NFL.
This year, he leads the NFL in rushing, is averaging five yards per carry and, just this past Monday night became the first back this season to gain 100 yards against the Dallas Cowboys' number-one ranked run defense.
But what makes Barber's story a compelling one aren't the numbers. It's not his impending retirement at the end of this season, and it's not even the fact that his twin brother, Ronde, plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and will square off against him this Sunday in New York. No, all of those elements are mere sidebars to a story that, ultimately, is about determination.
See, Barber was never supposed to be this good. Drafted in the second round of the 1997 NFL Draft, the 5-10, 200-pound Barber was initially viewed as a third-down back. Considered too light of frame to be an every-down player, Barber's role was going to be that of a situational back – a few carries here, a few carries there, enabling New York's main running threat to get an occasional breather. It's a role he says he initially accepted.
"When I first came in the league I was the proverbial Dave Meggett type – third down [back], punt returner, etc," Barber said. "And I relished that because I didn't know anything different. Obviously, we all want to be 'the guy,' but I knew that I wasn't capable of doing it."
In his first three seasons with the Giants, Barber carried the ball 136, 52 and 62 times, respectively. And prior to his 2002 breakthrough year, the most yards Barber had ever rushed for in a single season were 1,006 – a season in which he carried the ball only 213 times.
But Barber was too competitive to remain a role player. He wanted to be "the guy" after all. Maybe it was growing up with an athletically gifted twin, or maybe it was just possessing an inner drive to overcome the preconceived notions that football minds had about him. Whatever the case, Barber began working hard to get better – and he did.
"Over the years, I got smarter," Barber said. "I think I started to get stronger, particularly about four years ago. I started working out with Joe Carini, and I developed into a powerful back even though I'm small in stature. It allowed me to focus on the little things of the game."
The result was a 1,387-yard, 11-touchdown performance the following season on a then-career high 304 carries. Still, during that time, Barber was plagued by fumbling issues that marred the 1,200 and 1,500-rushing yard campaigns that followed.
Enter Head Coach Tom Coughlin, who took over the reigns in New York in 2004. After spending one season under Coughlin's guidance, Barber fumbled once in 357 carries last season on his way to rushing for a career-best 1,860 yards.
"Coach Tom Coughlin came in here, and he figured out that, mechanically, I was carrying the ball wrong," Barber said. "When I look at old film and pictures of me back at my early career, it's amazing that I didn't fumble more. The knowledge that I gained from Coach Coughlin and the strength that I gained from working out and the experience that I gained from just having the longevity and not getting injured – it's all come together to make me into the player that I am today."
And what a player he is. Entering this season, his 15,232 career total yards were the highest total in franchise history and the 18th-highest total in NFL history. His 528 receptions ranked him second on the Giants' career list, and his 50 career touchdowns rank him first in Giants' history. But again, this story isn't about the numbers. What Barber says he's most proud of is his emergence as a complete back, one that can run, one that can catch – one that can stay on the field every down.
"It's been an up-and-down career for me, but I don't shy away from – nor am I embarrassed by – my struggles because I think they crafted the person I am but also the player I am, learning to deal with them," Barber said. "It's also allowed me to appreciate that success that I have now.
"It's fun. To be good and to know that you're good is fun. It's fun to play the game this way."
Especially when it's not just on third downs.