Tiki Barber was not thinking about the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he retired as a player after the 2006 season.
“If my goal was to get into the Hall of Fame, I would have played for another year or two, got to 12,000 [career rushing] yards and all the requisite statistics,” he told Newsday on Tuesday.
Instead, he moved on while still at his peak after a decade with the Giants to begin a career in media, which currently has him working in afternoon drive time on WFAN.
But now, a dozen years after he became eligible, it appears voters are ready to reconsider his relatively short but highly productive playing career.
On Tuesday, the Hall of Fame announced that Barber, for the first time, had cleared the first important hurdle to induction as one of 25 semifinalists in the Modern-Era Player category for the Class of 2024.
Antonio Gates and Julius Peppers made it in their first year of eligibility. But for Barber, this was a milestone after years in which he was part of the initial list of nominees, which this year totaled 173, but got no farther.
Hall of Fame voters will trim the list of 25 semifinalists to 15 finalists early next year before their final meeting to select the inductees, who will be introduced at the NFL Honors show on Feb. 8.
“It’s exciting, and it’s humbling,” Barber said. “I’ve just never felt like people wanted to have the discussion about whether I was a Hall of Famer or not.”
Barber credited the fact they now are doing so in large part to his identical twin brother Ronde, who in his Hall of Fame induction speech last August noted how intertwined his life and career have been with Tiki’s.
“I think it forced people to kind of take a different look,” Tiki said.
That day, Ronde said, “If you don’t remember anything else I say today, remember this: I am here because of my brother . . . You simply cannot tell my story without telling our story.”
Barber was a Giant from 1997-2006, initially as a returner and third-down back and later as an all-purpose engine of the offense.
He is widely regarded as the greatest running back in Giants history, finishing with 10,449 rushing yards and 55 touchdowns, plus 5,183 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He exceeded 2,000 all-purpose yards from scrimmage in each of his last three seasons.
Still, his relatively short career limited the impact of his raw numbers.
“I don’t think the Hall of Fame is - or should be - about statistics,” Barber said. “I know in some cases it is. I think it's about impact. And I knew what kind of impact I had on the game. I knew what kind of effect I had on the Giants from a winning perspective, but also from an organizational perspective, and I thought that was important.
“But for me, football was the first step in my professional journey. And once I physically didn't feel like I could do it anymore, I walked away from it.”
Barber’s candidacy might be helped by the much-discussed change in how running backs are viewed, in some cases as interchangeable, and often as part of a committee approach. Late in his career, Barber did it all.
“Time has aged my career better, actually,” he said.
The Hall of Fame semifinalists, finalists and eventual induction class are chosen by a 50-member selection committee.
“I’ve always thought that I deserve to be in the conversation,” Barber said. “But it’s not my decision. I can't tell people to put me in the semifinals and have the conversation. It just felt like something that was never going to happen.
“I mentioned my brother’s speech because he's right: You can't talk about one of us without at least mentioning the other one of us. So it reminded people that Tiki had a pretty good career as well, so let's take a look at this.”
The 25 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2024: Modern-Era Player category
Eric Allen, CB
Jared Allen, DE
Willie Anderson, T
Tiki Barber, RB
Anquan Boldin, WR
Jahri Evans, G
London Fletcher, LB
Dwight Freeney, DE
Antonio Gates, TE
Eddie George, RB
James Harrison, LB
Rodney Harrison, S
Devin Hester, PR/KR/WR
Torry Holt, WR
Andre Johnson, WR
Robert Mathis, DE/LB
Julius Peppers, DE
Steve Smith Sr., WR
Fred Taylor, RB
Hines Ward, WR
Ricky Watters, RB
Reggie Wayne, WR
Vince Wilfork, DT
Patrick Willis, LB
Darren Woodson, S