“I gave him that ‘here’s your locker, here’s your helmet, here’s the field’ speech,” Shurmur said. “He’s going to get indoctrinated like any rookie and we’re going to treat him like any rookie coming into the organization.”
Shurmur is supposed to say things like that but anyone who thinks Barkley is just another rookie might want to think again.
In the immediate sense, Barkley was brought in to help the Giants win games. He was, in many observers’ estimation, the draft’s best prospect regardless of position. In the broader sense, Barkley could potentially turn into the face of both the New York Football Giants and the National Football League.
Charles Barkley once said he’s not a role model. Giants co-owner Steve Tisch believes Saquon Barkley is going to be one, something he admitted might be a little much to process for a player who celebrated his 21st birthday less than three months ago.
“It’s a lot of responsibility to ask a 21-year-old to be a role model, and I’m not suggesting he needs to take that responsibility,” Tisch said. “But I think because of who he is and the team he’s playing for, he’s going to probably accept that responsibility and I think he’s going to be extremely impressive.”
Barkley was introduced at a Saturday news conference. Tisch was front and center throughout the event while John Mara played the back and didn’t say much. Mara didn’t need to say anything because Tisch echoed the sentiments of the organization.
“If you listened to him this morning he seems so balanced and focused, mature,” Tisch said. “His priorities seem very, very in place, very appropriate. Very respectful. Makes references to his parents and his family. That’s a young guy who has grown up in a very functional environment and I think it’s going to translate to the Giants, especially in the locker room. Even as a 21-year old rookie, his influence in the locker room is going to be very impressive.”
Barkley acknowledged that he’s not trying to be the face of anything.
“I know that’s been said about me and that’s been said about me in college at Penn State,” Barkley said. “I really never view myself as that. The way I kind of handle that is just continue to stay focused on the sport and continue to stay focused on football and focus on my family and the things that get you there.
“The face of the franchise? When you have success, that tag comes along (with it). That’s kind of how I view it. That’s not something that I’m really looking forward to being. But if that happens, God willing, I have a lot of success and that comes with the territory, then so be it.”
The Giants already have two players who could be considered the Face of the Franchise: Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. Both Manning and Beckham were first-round selections but neither player entered their professional careers with this much fanfare. Manning was nothing more than Archie’s son and Peyton’s brother while Beckham’s star didn’t begin to rise until he embarrassed the Dallas Cowboys with a one-handed catch.
Barkley is, to quote Tisch, “coming here a known, not an unknown”. The Giants haven’t had a running back who transcended the sport since Frank Gifford wore No. 16. Tisch, who won an Academy Award for Best Picture as a producer of the 1994 film Forrest Gump, believes that Barkley has all the intangibles it takes to be a star on the gridiron…and perhaps beyond it.
“He’s charismatic, unbelievably gifted as an athlete,” Tisch said. “I think he really knows himself. His poise is very impressive. I think the value he’s going to bring to the Giants on the field and in the locker room is fantastic.”
Barkley acknowledged how he couldn’t take more than a few steps in the Giants facility without being reminded of the eight league championships or 30 Hall of Famers who spent all or parts of their careers with the team.
“You want to be great, and obviously, it’s not going to happen in one day,” Barkley said. “You’ve got to work for it and it’s going to take a long road and you’ve got to take it step by step.”
Barkley knows that if he’s not successful the trappings associated with success as a professional athlete won’t come. He has to be focused on (as Shurmur so eloquently put it) his locker, his helmet, and the field.
“The goal and dream is to win championships and be a dominant player,” Barkley said. “I feel like I want to get to the point where I’m a dominant player in the league and I have that presence. Having that impact in the game is what I look forward to and that’s why I think I was brought here, in my opinion.”