21-Gun Salute

You may not love Tiki Barber. You may have grown weary of his drama. You may wonder who is the real Tiki, the defiant running back ripping coaches and reporters or the soft-spoken smiling gentleman.

Only Barber and the people close to him know. Or maybe only Barber knows.

There is no dispute, however, regarding his value to the franchise the last decade. Barber will leave as the best running back in Giants history. He will be missed, by the organization, by fans, by the media.

So in salute of No. 21, I offer 21 reasons why Barber will be dearly missed:

21. His charm. He could put the most nervous media member at ease with an engaging personality. Barber for the most part respected and understood the media's task. Later on he became more sensitive to media criticism. But most of the media will remember Barber as a player who got it.

20. His perseverance. Barber earned a reputation as a fumbler before coach Tom Coughlin arrived in 2004. Coughlin showed Barber a more secure way to carry the ball and Barber, at age 29, changed a style he had used his entire football life. He went from a chronic fumbler to someone who almost never put the ball on the ground.

19. His fight. He didn't go from an undersized third-down back to an NFL feature back without a fair amount of fight. Barber refused to surrender when coaches tried to pigeonhole him early in his career.

18. His toughness. Barber stood out in the macho, play-at-all-costs climate of the NFL. Remember him playing with a broken arm? That was only the most glaringly painful injury he played through for 10 seasons.

17. His humility. Barber may have been the most accommodating star athlete in New York until a couple years ago. He seemed to have grown weary of the media within the past year or so. Perhaps Barber tired of the relentless New York media critiquing his every move. Or maybe Barber, finally a certified superstar, simply didn't feel the same need to massage the media as he had in his early years.

16. His arrogance. That's right, you can be both humble and arrogant, personally and professionally. Barber demanded the football as his career wore on, and when he didn't get it, he let people know. But it was that kind of defiance that helped him excel on the football field.

15. His smile. Come on, how many NFL players have teeth so perfectly aligned and white?

14. His patience. How often did you see Barber approach a block of potential tacklers at the line, stop, discover his own hole and dart through it before the defense reacted? An amazing runner.

13. His humanness. Barber rarely outran anyone in the open field, time and time again getting dragged down after breaking into the clear. It made him seem more human and vulnerable than the typical superstar back. Fans related to his limitations.

12. His intelligence. Forget his book smarts, his strong use of the language and worldliness. Barber was one of the smarter players around, seeing plays develop before others, knowing defensive tendencies inside and out (even when he stopped taking home the playbook).

11. His courage. That is, the courage of his convictions. One of the hardest things in life is believing in yourself when others don't believe in you. Barber had the courage to chase his goals before, and after, making the NFL. He dared to be great.

10. His courage, part II. When Michael Strahan spouted off about not getting a suitable contract extension, Barber criticized him publicly. Strahan took it hard and they feuded for a while. But while disagreeing with Barber, Strahan grew to appreciate Barber for taking the stand.

9. His presence. Even when he wasn't excelling, Barber was a presence on the field. He forced defenses to spend extra time during the week preparing for him. He gave the Giants a confidence, even an arrogance, by just being out there.

8. His dedication. Not only to football but to family. Barber wouldn't be leaving the game at this point if not for his love and respect for his wife and children. He was criticized for admitting that he didn't take home his playbook anymore so he could spend more time with his family. Yet it's the same media and fans that regularly rip players for having no such stability in their lives.

7. His dedication, Part II. Few pro athletes reinvent themselves the way Barber did a while back by dramatically stepping up his offseason weight training. Barber wasn't even 190 pounds when he hired New Jersey weights guru Joe Carini following the January 2003 playoff loss to San Francisco. Barber put on more than 20 pounds of muscle and instantly became a better player. He broke more tackles, ran harder and brought a mental edge to the field.

6. His caring. When Wellington Mara took ill, Barber was one of the players who visited him at his home. Barber had a way about him that made strangers feel special. Those close to him, like Mara, valued his friendship.

5. His behavior. We may have had a tough time figuring out Barber in the end, his criticism of coaches, his edginess. But by and large, he was a valuable role model for children.

4. His versatility. Barber possessed the running back triple threat: He could run, catch and block.

3. His loyalty. In the end Barber seemed most loyal to himself: his beliefs, his convictions, his values. He was quitting football. Nobody was going to talk him out of it.

2. His timing. How many pro athletes leave the game too late instead of too early? Barber, as usual, showed a keen sense of timing. Good for him.

1. His numbers. More than 10,000 rushing yards, almost 600 receptions and more than 17,000 total yards. Not bad for a third-down back out of Virginia.

Not bad at all.

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