Giants turn Super minus Barber's dissonant chorus: me, me, me
Jan. 29, 2008
By Mike Freeman
CBSSports.com National Columnist
PHOENIX -- A question: How does a team lose a star player -- a borderline Hall of Famer, one of the best talents in the history of the New York Giants -- and get better?
When that player is Me-ki Barber, the answer is easy.
"Tiki was all about Tiki," said a key Giants player, who asked not to be identified, speaking recently about the former Giants runner. "I don't get why people make this so complicated. If he was still on the team, we wouldn't be here (in the Super Bowl). Trust me on that. It would be a different locker room."
By different the player means more splintered, more finger pointing, less unified.
By different, he means worse.
"It's not a coincidence that he's gone and we're here," the player said. "You're a fool if you think it is."
And if you fail to believe that a significant number of Giants veterans aren't privately chuckling at that coincidence and even mocking Barber now, behind his back, you're a fool, too, because they are.
Less Me-ki, they say, means more wins.
Maybe, but that is what more than a few Giants players feel and state privately. In fairness, not everyone in that locker room and around the team agrees. Ernie Accorsi, former Giants general manager who mostly built this current team and knows Barber well, was asked if he believes the Giants are better off without Me-ki.
"My answer is the same as it is to people who say the same thing about (Jeremy) Shockey," said Accorsi, who drafted Shockey, in an e-mail to CBSSports.com. "You are never better off when you lose great players."
He added: "I will say this. The balance that (running backs) Jacobs and Bradshaw give the running game is a key ingredient of this success. I love two backs (that) are different in style to throw at a defense."
That is indeed part of the reason the Giants running game didn't suffer dramatically, if at all, when Me-ki took his talent and self-centeredness into retirement last season. The Giants have joined a number of other teams relying on a multi-faceted rushing attack. The varying styles of a punisher and quick back can keep a defense on its heels. The Giants this season mastered that process.
Basically, Bradshaw and Jacobs have combined to do what Barber did, except Bradshaw and Jacobs aren't camera-hogging jerks.
The success of the Giants minus Me-ki goes beyond the X's and O's. It's also about exes and ho's.
First, Giants players are treating Barber like he's an ex-girlfriend. More than a few players on the team want to prove they can be successful without him and that Barber's departure was his loss, not theirs.
Second, Barber was a media ho'. He didn't know how to step back and let quarterback Eli Manning be one of the main presences and a spokesman for the offense.
Third, and most important, the absence of Barber -- and to some degree Shockey -- has allowed Manning to mature and become the leader of the team. This is not a new thought, but it is likely the most accurate one in explaining New York's surprising success.
Imagine you're Eli. No longer is Shockey gyrating like Elvis and complaining if a pass doesn't go his way or is errantly thrown. No longer is Me-ki undermining you in the locker room.
Wouldn't you get better? Wouldn't you feel more comfortable? Wouldn't you grow?
The past dynamics and ego-sautéing in that Giants locker room are among the most fascinating I've ever seen. Many in the New York media felt Barber was a good guy, and another strong personality in the room, Michael Strahan, was a bad guy. In fact, the opposite was true. What some have long failed to realize is that teammates love Strahan while most Giants players, in my opinion, only tolerated Barber.
People had misidentified their villains.
So, a question, indeed: How does a team lose a star player -- a borderline Hall of Famer, one of the best talents in the history of the New York Giants -- and get better?
Make it to the Super Bowl better.
The answer: You say goodbye to Me-ki and never look back.