Saquon Barkley could be standing on the field Saturday night at the second annual Landon Collins Celebrity Softball Game flanked on one side by Brandon Jacobs, Tiki Barber, Joe Morris, Ottis Anderson and Tyrone Wheatley. On the other side could be Wayne Gallman, Shane Smith, Ahmad Bradshaw, David Wilson and Henry Hynoski. It’s a who's who of New York Giants running backs current and past, with a wealth of knowledge and advice at their fingertips that could help Barkley navigate what he’s about to encounter in his current role.
This will be a rare instance with so many voices and opinions at Barkley’s disposal in one dugout.
“This is an opportunity I wish I had when I was a rookie,” said Jacobs, who will captain the ex-Giants team at the event, which will include a dodgeball match, home run derby and softball game. Proceeds will be donated to the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund.
The event’s organizer, Joe Ruback, a Giants superfan known as License Plate Guy, invited as many as 30 running backs to attend. Twenty are expected to make it to Palisades Credit Union Park in Pomona, N.Y.
For many, this will be their first chance to meet Barkley, the No. 2 pick in this year’s NFL draft. It will be their first opportunity to impart some of their hard-earned wisdom on the running back who general manager Dave Gettleman said was touched by the hands of God and had a perfect draft grade.
Jacobs hasn’t had the opportunity to meet Barkley yet. He’s well prepared to impart advice to the young running back. Jacobs noted that it’s the No. 1 question he’s asked on social media these days.
His advice is simple.
“Stay focused. Stay out of the streets. Be really careful who you let close to you,” Jacobs said. “That’s the only advice I have for him. The football will come natural.”
Keeping his circle tight is something Barkley mentioned immediately after the draft. He has his family, close friends and the team he assembled to handle his career.
But it’s easier said than done being a star in this market. Barkley is going to get pulled in a lot of different directions by a lot of different people. It’s part of the deal.
Perhaps no running back on the field Saturday will know this better than Barber. He’s the Giants’ last Pro Bowl running back. That was 12 years ago.
Barber’s already had the opportunity to meet Barkley. He dined with the Giants’ top pick, family and some of his Roc Nation team just this week at Rao’s in Manhattan. He noticed an inquisitive young man who asked lots of questions about Barber’s career during and after football.
Barkley even wrote down a quote that Barber tried to live by when he was playing.
“Our critics are our friends. They show us our faults.” -- Benjamin Franklin
It falls right in line with the advice that Barber offered about playing in New York.
“First thing I told him is learn as much as you can. The smarter you are, the easier it becomes for you to not think. These days these kids are already ahead of that. They’re thinking about the X’s and O’s deeper than I ever did coming out of school and it was a learning process when I got to the league. So that was one.
“The other one was to block out the noise. Don’t worry about your critics.”
There will be more advice to come from plenty of different voices. Some of it might be on Saturday night, and be the beginning of friendships that last throughout Barkley’s career.
Barber eventually came to know Frank Gifford, Anderson and Morris well during his time as a player. Jacobs had Barber, Hampton and Anderson as some of his running back mentors. Barkley can get a little bit of something from them all (minus the late Gifford), beginning this weekend.
This was the intended purpose of the running-back theme to this year’s event.
“I took it in a different direction. You always want to do something different year to year. Selecting the best athlete in the 2018 NFL draft, let’s do something a little special and invite some legends that he can follow in their footsteps,” said Ruback, who helped raise $30,000 for the Jay Fund last year and is hoping to top that this time around.
He added: “They can offer support and guidance on how to handle the Big Apple, media and everything that consists of. Last but not least, most of them have rings and I want him to see what he is working for.”
It seems to be a pretty nice peripheral benefit for Barkley at a charity event.