This story was published in Saratoga Today, on Friday, Aug. 11, 2006, just days after I interviewed Tiki Barber at the University of Albany before his final season with the Giants. It was ... and still is one of my best days as a sportswriter and a Giants fan.
By Derek Constable
As the Giants began their 10th summer at the University of Albany, one Giant was preparing for his 10th season in the National Football League. After a decade in New York and just one trip to the Super Bowl, Tiki Barber is nearing the end of his career, but still has his eye on the prize.
"I think everyone plays this game for a few reasons," Barber said. "One—is to make a name for yourself ... to be recognized. There is something to the adulation of being a good football player. Two—is to make a good living, to make a good amount of money so you don't have to worry about your future. Given that a lot of us are from not-so-privileged backgrounds, it's definitely an incentive. But I think as you get older, as you start to understand the history and the importance of the game, what you really want to do is win a Super Bowl. And that's what my focus is right now."
Last year, New York beefed up its receiving core with the addition of 6'5" receiver Plaxico Burress, and this season, the team focused on improving its defense with strong additions to the secondary as well as at linebacker.
"We had great additions in our defense with Lavar [Arrington], Sam Madison, Will Demps and some of these people we picked up to strengthen our secondary—which was an Achilles heel for us last year," Barber said. "We haven't changed much offensively, which is a good thing, because we were very effective last year."
Effective is an understatement. The Giants' offense received top-billing over the defense for one of the first times in recent history. While the Giants secondary struggled, receivers such as Burress, Amani Toomer and tight end Jeremy Shockey caught seven touchdowns a piece. Barber also had a career year, rushing for 1,860 yards and nine touchdowns, while he caught two more touchdowns and put up over 500 yards receiving.
Not too shabby for a veteran entering his 10th year in the league.
With over 13,000 all-purpose yards on his resume as well as 50 career touchdowns, Barber could easily go down as the greatest running back in Giants' history.
Even with all his accomplishments, on and off the field, one thing Barber hasn't been able to wrap his hands around is a Super Bowl ring.
"It's funny, because everybody talks to me about the Hall of Fame, and I think it's my brother who is going to be in it," Barber said. "I think he's going to be the first person with 30 picks and 30 sacks. He's always talked about me, saying, 'Well, if you play three or four more years—you could do it,' but in my mind, especially after I started to make it ... after I started to get good, I never wanted to be that guy who hangs on and just becomes a compiler for compiling sake. If I can't play at a high level or my team is not competing at a high level because of me, I'll go do something else."
MARCH ON MIAMI: Giants Super Bowl in 2007?
This season the Giants are in a great position to make a run at the Lombardi Trophy. Manning is coming into his own as a player and after a rough loss to Carolina last season, he can say he has playoff experience.
The receiving core has both veteran leadership and young talent in Toomer and Burress. The mix should help open up the backfield and give the young quarterback more options.
On defense, the front office did not ignore its problems against the run as well as in the secondary. Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora have done a fine job putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but the Giants desperately needed help stopping explosive playmakers like Santana Moss and Steve Smith.
This year, the Giants will kickoff the season against the Indianapolis Colts, who threatened to run the table in 2005-06 and become the first team to go undefeated since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Brothers Peyton and Eli will face off for the first time ever in a game the media has already dubbed "The Manning Bowl."
"I think it's a great test for us as a unit to see where we are," Barber said. "Right off the bat, our first five weeks are challenging, we're only home once, and we go on the road to Seattle. So I think as the cliche goes, in order to be the best you got to beat the best. Week One will be 'The Manning Bowl,' but I think that both of them couldn't care less the name that's being given to it, they just want to play well and get their teams off to good starts."