When you think of legendary running backs, names like Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, and Walter Payton come to mind. Each of them are famous and defining figures, Hall of Famers who helped shape the role of a running back over the years.
Tiki Barber is a name that frequently gets left off that list, however. Not because his stats weren’t comparable; they certainly were. He was, and still is the Giants’ all-time leading rusher with more yards from scrimmage than just about everybody. Sometimes the numbers aren’t enough though. Sometimes politics and personalities get in the way of history.
Tiki Barber’s career highlights
If you go based on his stats alone, Barber is one of the greatest running backs of all time. He’s certainly the most prolific rusher in Giants’ history and was even inducted into their ring of honor in 2010. Barber got his NFL start in 1997 after playing for the University of Virginia. The Giants selected him in the second round of the ’97 draft.
The first two years of Barber’s NFL career got off to a rocky start. During that period, he was employed primarily as a third-down back meant to disrupt and change the momentum of the possession. However, a knee injury took him out of play for most of his rookie year, with additional injuries continuing to plague him until his breakout performance in 2000.
Starting that year, Barber finally hit his stride. Energized by a new a six-year contract, he would go on to become one of the most productive offensive players in the entire NFL. Across his 10 seasons, he had more than 2,200 carries and 10,400 yards, with a total of 55 touchdowns.
To cap it off, he was a three-time Pro Bowler and named to the Virginia State Hall of Fame. And yet, no NFL Hall of Fame nomination has been forthcoming.
Life after football
Unfortunately, Tiki Barber’s exploits on the field have been overshadowed by his attitude off the field.
Barber retired from the NFL in 2007 and began a new career as a sportscaster for NBC. That’s where the trouble began. Barber was not shy about sharing his feelings with the public, airing dirty laundry in regard to a sour relationship with coach Tom Coughlin and his lack of respect for quarterback Eli Manning.
Barber was outspoken, both on the air and through personal interviews, about his dislike for Coughlin’s coaching style. While barber considered this to be just another facet of his sportscasting persona, fans didn’t see it that way.
They considered it a betrayal, not to mention a classless move by the retired running back. It wasn’t long before Barber’s personal troubles overtook him and his second career imploded. Barber left his pregnant wife for a young intern at NBC, and a bitter, public divorce ensued after he was fired.
That’s why, in 2010 when Barber was inducted into the Giants’ ring of honor, he was met with a chorus of boos echoing across the stadium.
Water under the bridge?
10 years have passed since Tiki Barber was booed by the crowd of fans at MetLife stadium. In the decade since, has Barber’s relationship with his former team improved at all?
Luckily, yes. Despite a disastrous attempt to return to the NFL in 2011 which lacked any real traction, things seem to be improving. Tom Coughlin is gone, and after a succession of short-lived head coaches, Pat Shurmur is now in charge of the Giants and intent on mending bridges.
For his part, it seems that Barber missed the Giants too. And while there’s still no Hall of Fame talk, at least the conversation had turned away from Barber’s mouth and onto his legendary performance on the field.