Shortly after the Giants drafted him, Saquon Barkley and his family had dinner at swanky Rao’s in Manhattan with none other than Tiki Barber. Barkley had yet to play an NFL snap at the time, but he had a bold prediction to give the team’s all-time leader in rushing yards and the holder of many other benchmarks in franchise history.
Barkley told Barber that he was going to break all of his records.
On Monday, Barkley recalled that conversation.
“That’s one,” he said.
A big one. Barkley was fresh off besting the mark for most yards from scrimmage in a single game, having racked up 279 of them (189 rushing and 90 receiving) in a 41-35 overtime win over Washington on Sunday. The old record had stood for close to 17 years. Barber had 276 total yards (203 rushing, 73 receiving) against the Eagles on Dec. 28, 2002.
Barber has said in the past that he fully expects Barkley to break his records. So far, the standards for rushing yards in a season (1,860) and a game (234) remain in his possession, as does his mark for all-purpose yards in a single season (2,390). In fact, Barber owns five of the top six seasons for total yardage gained in Giants history.
Now, though, he has ceded one mark to Barkley.
Asked if it felt at the time as if he were having the most productive game in 95 seasons of Giants football, Barkley shrugged.
“I guess,” he said. “I didn’t find that out until after the game. But that’s something you set goals to do. You want to set records here. I’ve already been quoted saying I want to be legendary, I want to be great. I’m thankful to have that record. Even though my name is on that record, it took a lot of people to help me to do it.”
The offensive line (and tight ends and receivers) who blocked for him, the quarterback who got the ball to him, even — Barkley was quick to note — the coaches who set up the plays on which he excelled.
He has a chance to set another record this Sunday, too. If Barkley can rush for 89 yards against the Eagles in the regular-season finale, he’ll be the first Giants player to reach 1,000 in each of his first two NFL seasons.
Hitting that milestone also would serve to whitewash what has been a fairly disappointing season for Barkley and the Giants. If he reaches quadruple digits, his 2019 campaign suddenly will go from an injury-riddled struggle to a successful one . . . at least in the eyes of history. Years from now, people will quickly scan Barkley’s career stats, and when they come to this season, rightly or wrongly, whether they see 997 or 1,004 will make a big difference in perception.
“We’ll get him there,” guard Will Hernandez vowed Monday.
Sunday’s performance by Barkley served as a reminder to the offensive line of what he is capable of and their role in such dynamism.
“All we want to do now is rally and say, ‘Hey, let’s give this guy the chance every single game so he can maximize his potential,’ ” Hernandez said. “If we can just give him that chance, he can do the rest and take care of all those big yards and big records and he’ll set them for a long time.”
That’s exactly what Barkley told Barber he wanted to do when they dined over lemon chicken less than two years ago.
“It was not in a disrespectful way, but basically coming from a respectful way that it’s my goal that I want to be great like you one day,” Barkley said of that chat. “He gave me a lot of advice, gave me a lot of motivation. You know, he’s a great dude.”
When it comes to Giants running backs, statistically, Barber is still the greatest, too.
And in one fewer way than he was before Sunday.