'Joe & Evan': Tiki Barber Reflects On Eli Manning's Rookie Season

Former Giants Running Back Says First Few Games Was Struggle

Joe & Evan
January 23, 2020 - 6:00 pm

Tiki Barber had no idea what to expect when the Giants acquired Eli Manning at the 2004 NFL Draft.

Listen to your team news NOW.

Ahead of Eli Manning's retirement press conference, Barber, who played three seasons alongside Manning, joined WFAN's Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts to reflect on his first impressions of the longtime Giants quarterback.

"The only thing I remember being told was that Eli is not Peyton, he's not his brother," Barber said on Thursday. "And I'm like, "What does that even mean? Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing?" He's certainly quieter. It was a struggle early because they dumped the entire playbook on his lap. They said alright, learn it. Kurt Warner is here for you to learn behind and we all knew he'd eventually get a chance to play but it was a lot. Those first few games, it was a struggle for him, for us."

The Giants traded Philip Rivers and multiple draft picks in exchange for the franchise quarterback. Manning waited until Week 11 to make his first start of the 2004 season, succeeding Kurt Warner, who signed with the team during the offseason. The move was well received from the Giants' locker room, but would have likely been different if Kerry Collins, the Giants' starting QB from 1999-2003 were still a part of the team.

"If it had been Kerry Collins that they had pulled the plug for ... there might have been, 'what the heck is going on? This is our guy. We know Kerry,'" Barber said. "We didn't know Kurt. We knew Kurt from reputation and orchestrating the "Greatest Show on Turf" in St. Louis, but we didn't know him.

"None of us had ever played with him," Barber continued. "The system didn't really fit what he did under (then Rams head coach) Mike Martz's system. ...It didnt really fit Kurt's strengths so when they made the switch, most of us were OK with it because we saw that it was going to happen anyway."

Warner's contract carried a player option for the second year, but the Giants already made up their mind: Manning was their guy, "Were they better off waiting even longer to go to him?" Roberts asked.

"Maybe, but he played a couple of good games his rookie season which I think helped," Barber said. "The Pittsburgh game, where he almost beat Ben Roethlisberger and then obviously the last game of the season in Week 17 against Dallas, we won on that fourth-quarter drive down the field, two-minute drill, we scored on the last play. We scored and beat them, which was awesome and I think it was confidence-building for Eli - I think more importantly confidence-building for our team and Eli."