Twice Barber had an opportunity to go as an injury replacement, but he declined the invitation each time. In 2000, it came too late. Two years later, Giants vice president of medical services Ronnie Barnes advised him not to play because of an injury. Not being able to play in those games didn't disturb Barber, because he really wanted to play in a Pro Bowl only if he was voted in.
This time, he was. After a morning walk-through on Dec. 22, Tom Coughlin announced to he and his teammates that Barber had been selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team. He will be in uniform when the NFL's annual All-Star game is played on February 13 in Honolulu.
"That is what you play the game for – to try to be successful and to try to do the best that you can for your team," Barber said. "It is great when you have the fans, the players and the coaches around this league recognize that."
Barber's happiness was doubled when he learned that his twin brother, Ronde, a Bucs cornerback, would be making the trip with him.
"I'm actually more pleased for my brother like I always am when he accomplishes things," Barber said. "It is just a testament of how blessed we are as a family and the hard work we both put into our careers, and it pays off."
The Barbers are the seventh set of NFL brothers to be named to the Pro Bowl and third in the same season (Bruce and Clay Matthews, 1989-90; and Shannon and Sterling Sharpe, 1993-95). They are also the first set of twins to be chosen for the game.
Barber has been the Giants' most productive player this season. He entered the Cincinnati game first in the NFC and second in the NFL with 1,857 yards from scrimmage, which is 44.6 percent of the Giants' total this season. Barber was second in the conference in rushing (1,314 yards), second in rushing touchdowns (11) and first in first downs (82 total, 66 rushing and 16 receiving).
"He has done very well," Coughlin said, "and he has, without a doubt, proven that he deserves the carries that he is getting and under some circumstances, even more."
Coughlin was asked what he is most proud of Barber for this season.
"The way in which he has dedicated himself to having the kind of year that he has had in terms of running the ball," Coughlin said. "Ball security, for the most part, has been outstanding. His attitude, his positiveness, the way he interacts with his teammates, all of those things."
Barber is on pace to finish the season with career-high totals in rushing attempts, yards and rushing touchdowns.
"This is an individual accomplishment to be celebrated when the season is over," Barber said. "Right now, as always, my focus is on helping this team win. If I play well, it gives us a better chance. That is what I focus on."
Barber has a chance to set franchise records for single season and career rushing. He is closing in on Joe Morris' single-season record of 1,516, set in 1986, and career record-holder Rodney Hampton, who rushed for 6,897 yards from 1990-97.
"Not in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be on the verge of passing him in career yardage for Giants rushing," Barber said. "It's a circumstance that's been fortunate, having the right offenses around me, having the right group of guys around me to support and motivate me and having good coaches."
Perhaps the most impressive element in all this is that Barber was expected to be little more than a third-down back when he joined the Giants as a second-round draft choice in 1997. At the conclusion of his third season in the league, Barber had totaled 250 carries and 935 rushing yards. Since the start of the 2000 season, he has averaged 247 rushing attempts, 1,158 yards and 65 receptions a season.
"Coming into this league, I had no idea what I would accomplish, even what I wanted to achieve," Barber said. "Typecasts were set for me; expectations were already set for me. I had to go through a lot of growing and learning pains. And that continued my entire career. But I have always been someone who has fought back and someone who has never given up on myself, which is the most important thing. After the season I have had this year, I'm being rewarded a little bit. That is encouraging and fulfilling."
Barber will turn 30 in April, an age when many running backs begin to decline. But thanks in large measure to a more rigorous offseason workout program – both with the team and on his own – Barber keeps getting better.
"As you get older, you have to find ways to stay younger and for me it was to get into a power lifting program out here (in New Jersey) in Totowa," Barber said. "It did wonders for my strength, it did wonders for my explosion, and I think it's been a big contributing factor to my success this year and my health this year."
"He has always been a guy who is in great shape, great condition," Coughlin said. "He does a lot in the offseason. He did a super job last offseason in our strength program, our free weight program. He trained very hard. He takes good care of himself during the season, as well. So I am hoping that he remains a young 30."
Before worrying about another birthday, Barber's focused on finishing up strong and then enjoying his week in Hawaii.
"It'll be a good feeling to know that I've accomplished a lot and, I guess shattered is the word, people's expectations of what I would be early on in my career and even recently in my career," he said. "I'm proud that I was able to reinvent myself…and prove my worth as a player."
Possible Pro Bowlers: Barber wasn't the only Giant who was recognized by his peers, the coaches and fans around the country. Second-year pro David Tyree is the NFC's first alternate special teams player, tight end Jeremy Shockey is a second alternate, and strongside linebacker Carlos Emmons is a fourth alternate.
"All the people that have been recognized, even as alternates, over the years it is an outstanding recognition," Coughlin said. "And many times they end up having a chance to go and play."
Tyree leads the Giants with 13 special teams tackles. The Giants' punt coverage unit has downed seven punts inside the opponents' 10-yard line, including five inside the five. Of those five, Tyree has batted two back into the field of play from the end zone for his teammates to down and has downed another two on his own.
"It's great to be recognized by all of my peers from more or less the whole league and it's a great feeling," Tyree said. "I'm thankful and I'm grateful for everything. You never want to go unappreciated, and special teams is the kind of work that is easily overlooked. Just to be seen as one of the tops in the conference and the best in the league is a great honor."
Taking advantage: One player who has quietly, but very successfully, taken advantage of his opportunity is Nick Greisen. To say Greisen has been the most dependable and consistent Giants linebacker this season is hardly a stretch, as he's shown he can play both in the middle and on the weak side. His coach has obviously noticed as well.
"He has done an outstanding job," Coughlin said. "He has proven…under all circumstances, he has made plays. He has made plays with the ball right at him. He has made plays on the edge. He has defended the pass. He has done a good job and he has been…his play, nothing more, has solidified the way, particularly our defensive staff, feels about his contribution."
Rising rookie: Another defender turning heads is rookie free agent DB Curtis Deloatch. Coughlin said his play thus far warrants more of a look during the season's final two weeks.
"He has really improved on special teams," Coughlin said. "He's done an outstanding job. You saw the big tackle he made (in Baltimore) as a gunner going down and making a play. It was an excellent play. The kid can run, there's no doubt about it. He covers a lot of ground with the ball in the air. We've used him from time to time back there in our nickel and dime packages, and he certainly would warrant a little more work back there."
Quote of the Week: "I was at practice and I heard that there were rumors that I didn't go to practice, but I was there and everything is everything. Any problems between me and the coaches or me and whoever in the locker room stays in the locker room. If there is a problem, it remains here and it's not for the outside to discuss, it's not for the newspaper to write about or talk about and create problems in this locker room. That's how it is right now and that's how it will be in the future." – Giants CB Will Peterson responding to claims that he missed practice. Peterson actually showed up late for a meeting, which left his starting status for Sunday in doubt.
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