One last chance to pay homage to giant among Giants: Barber

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December 23, 2006|By Bob Glauber | Bob Glauber,Newsday

East Rutherford, N.J. — East Rutherford, N.J.

It dawned on Tiki Barber the morning after the Giants beat the Eagles with a dramatic comeback in Week 2. That's when he knew this would be his final season.

"I felt like I was 50 years old," Barber said Thursday. "I consciously told myself, `I don't want to do this anymore. I want to move on with the rest of my life.' "

The Giants staged a remarkable fourth-quarter rally against the Eagles and beat their divisional rival in overtime. Barber was exhausted.

"Literally, the next morning, I couldn't pick my head up off my pillow because I had an injury to my neck and back," he said. "My kids wanted to play with me, but all I could do was lay in bed. Jeremiah Trotter hit me like 20 times. I was tired. I was beat up. I didn't recover from that game until probably the next Saturday."

He thought seriously about life after football, and about some of the great players who are living with the wounds of their NFL careers. He did not want to be one of them.

"I don't want to be like Earl Campbell when I'm 50, not being able to walk, especially with all the opportunities that I have, that I have a passion for," said Barber, who plans a career as a television broadcaster.

After that, it was over. Barber knew he still had enough left to give his best for the rest of the season, but he knew he could go no further. Tomorrow, he will walk out of the tunnel against the Saints knowing it will be his final game at Giants Stadium.

"This is a stadium I've been coming to for 10 years, and there are tons of memories for me," he said. "But I think the emotion won't come until later, because I'm so focused on my job and the things I need to do."

But Giants fans should be very emotional about the most productive running back in franchise history. They should chant his name over and over, knowing this will be the last time they see him at the stadium where he produced so many memorable moments.

"Very special, very emotional, to be honest with you," coach Tom Coughlin said after practice. "It will be a very special day for all Giants fans, the last day that Tiki plays in Giants Stadium."

Coughlin and Barber have had their differences over the years, especially with Barber's occasional public criticism of the coaching staff, particularly after last season's playoff loss to Carolina. But Barber insists their relationship is misunderstood, and he shared a story rarely told.

"People think we're combative and that because of my personality and his personality we don't get along," Barber said. "His first season, my son had problems with high fevers and ear infections, and he had a seizure when we played our first game in 2004. [Coughlin] was great. He pulled me aside and said, `Whatever you need to do, you go do it. If you have to leave, leave.'

"We formed a bond there that most people aren't aware of, and it opened a dialogue on a non-player/coach relationship, and it allows us to have a better relationship as a player/coach."

Bottom line: Barber has enjoyed his greatest years under Coughlin, to the point that his 10-season career is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. Even if he believes that he won't be the Barber to get into Canton.

"I see myself walking up to that podium and introducing my brother into the Hall of Fame," Barber said of his twin, Buccaneers cornerback Ronde.

"People say if I don't make it to the Hall of Fame that [I] was a pretty good player. That's all that matters. I never played this game to be a Hall of Famer. I played it to try to win championships. I went to one; we lost to the Ravens. I want to get back again. If that doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. But I won't define my life whether or not I win a championship or get to the Hall of Fame."

So many great games. So many splendid memories. But there's one that stands out from the rest.

"A lot of people will point to that beautiful game we played in the [January 2001] NFC championship game when we beat the Vikings, or the Kansas City game last year where I set the [Giants'] single-game rushing record," Barber said.

"But I think my greatest is when we played the Redskins that same year, after Wellington Mara passed away and I had an opportunity to do something a lot of guys don't get to do, which is thank the Mara family for what they've been to me and to my career the only way I can: by putting on a great performance [206 rushing yards], scoring a touchdown and giving the ball to his grandson, and saying, `This is for you. I love you guys, and thank you.' You can't write it any better than that."

No, you cannot. Unless there is an unexpected run to the Super Bowl this season, especially when the Giants look like they just don't have it in them.

That's why Giants fans must appreciate tomorrow all the more. It's their last time to pay homage to one of the greatest players in franchise history. One final time to chant his name and salute his legacy.

Bob Glauber writes for Newsday.

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