Sunday, December 31, 2006

A One-Man Gang -- Tiki Beats the 'Skins All By Himself: There are no words that can adequately convey what a performance Tiki Barber delivered in what is promised to be his final regular season game. This is one long-time New York Giants diehard fan who is very glad he decided to shell out the outrageous funds it takes to procure a ticket to Redskins games these days. It's been years since I saw the Giants play in person -- the last time I saw them play, Barber was averaging less than 4 carries a game.

The Giants' defense looked like Swiss cheese, and Eli Manning still can't throw the ball to a spot. On this night, however, Tiki Barber outplayed the other team. He ran for 234 yards and three touchdowns, and he had a thirty-plus yard run called back for a holding penalty. As good as the numbers were -- and Tiki saved his best game for last -- the numbers really don't adequately convey his performance. On each of his touchdowns, Barber ran away from the defense. In the past, he's never been the type of back to take the really long runs all the way, as he tends to get caught from behind. Not on this night, though. There was no catching Tiki Barber tonight.

The play that really epitomized his brilliance was the final touchdown. The Giants were trying to control the ball and hold on to a precarious six-point lead. On the previous play Barber ran for a first down, but lost the ball as he hit the ground. Though the refs ruled Tiki down by contact, there was a scramble for the loose ball, which was recovered by Giants' tackle Kareem McKenzie.

As the Giants were huddling for the next play, McKenzie struggled to join his teammates, limping badly, as he dragged his injured left leg behind him. McKenzie then limped to the line of scrimmage, barely able to walk. Surely the Giants would have enough sense to run their play to the other side? Instead, Manning handed off to Barber again, who followed his blocking off right tackle. It might have seemed like a foolish play-call, but Tiki Barber could not be denied this night. Barber picked his way through the Redskins' defensive line and then sprinted past the secondary for a 50-yard touchdown run that proved to be the decisive score.

Outside of Barber's heroics, the Giants' did not look like a playoff-caliber team. Manning threw behind or over his receivers on almost every toss. Tyree made a nice grab on a pass behind him, for a crucial first down on the first touchdown drive. Manning was more accurate on his only touchdown toss, to Carter. Other than those two plays, the Giants best passing plays were those that resulted in defensive penalties. I'm willing to bet the Giants have drawn more defensive holding, illegal contact and pass interference penalties than any other team in history. But that does not make for a passing attack.

If this was Barber's last regular season game for the Giants, it was more than merely memorable. It was a truly historic performance. I feel honored to have witnessed it. One-Man gang? Barber was a one-man football team. He practically beat the Redskins by himself. If this was Barber's last regular season game, the Giants are in deep trouble next year.

On the other hand, the Giants will be under new management, and probably new coaches. It's no secret that Barber has been highly ciritical of the Giants' coaching for the last year. Is it possible that these impending changes will be enough to change Barber's mind about going into retirement? I can dream, can't I?

If you're a Redskin fan, you can be cheered by the play of Jason Campbell. He was by far the better quarterback. He is as good a young quarterback as there is in the league. Though the offense sputtered on the final possession, Campbell played a very strong game, making big plays with his feet and his arm. If the Redskins can put together a competitive defense, this team will go far.

By the way, as much as I enjoy the "Hail to the Redskins" fight song, the team has to change it's nickname, and trademark image. I watched Redskins fans gather after the game for photographs with that iconic fan who dresses in red and wears a feathered headdress. I'm not saying it's not without kitschy charm, but it's really grotesque to continue to use that name in this day and age. It's hard to imagine a more racist or politically incorrect nickname than "Redskins." Come on, Daniel Snyder. Find another name -- start a new brand, a new tradition.

While I'm beseeching the rich and famous: Please, Tiki -- give us another year or two?

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