By Lenn Robbins
When Marquise Pouncey pounced on Garrett Myles, who had just cracked his helmet over Mason Randolph’s head, the Internet lit up with praise for the Pittsburgh center:
The ultimate team player.
The guy you want next to you if you’re driven into the opposition’s sideline.
The guy that will play hurt and play hard every play.
There were a few comments, however, that were confounding: To summarize, there is a belief that selfless, team-oriented players such as Pouncey, are becoming fewer in the NFL.
Certainly, it is a topic for debate, especially between fans of different generations. Athletes in the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s might not have felt they had the right, no less the job security, to demand a trade, or seek outside medical opinions about a head injury.
Athletes in more recent decades have fought for better health care, pensions and the more radical ones have held out for an entire season in order to gain their freedom. They market themselves. They take political stands.
What some fans might confuse a player’s outward displays of emotion as an example of decaying team values, others see it as the evolution of the athlete/person that is just as committed to the team as players from years gone by.
Just when it seems as if the team-first players are diminishing (See: Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell) along comes Pouncey, or closer to home, Saquon Barkley.
Barkley has been playing with a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 3. Initial estimates had Barkley missing around eight games. He missed three.
Barkley added a dinged up shoulder in the Giants 34-27 loss to the Jets last weekend. He had his worst day as a pro, rushing 13 times for one yard and catching five balls for 30 yards.
The idea of Barkley shutting it down his bruised and battered body was put to him earlier this week. The 2-8 Giants will be playing golf come playoff time so to risk Barkley suffering a severe injury in these finals six games seems unwise, for player and team.
“The mindset of me sitting out and resting me for the rest season is beyond me,” Barkley told reporters. “I don’t agree with it and it won’t happen. I’m going to keep going until I can’t go anymore.”
When is that?
Is it after this Sunday’s game in Chicago when the Giants face a fierce Bears’ defense? Is it the following week, when the playoff-bound Packers with their improved defense, comes to town? Is it Dec. 9th when the Giants play at NFC East rival Philadelphia whose defense can hit with the best of them?
“To say that I’m not healthy, that’s just an excuse,” said Barkley. “Everyone is banged up, everyone is going through something and I’m not going to let that be an excuse for why I’m not having a successful season. The reason I’m not having a successful season is because I’m not making enough plays for my team.”
The Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg in 2012. Strasburg was having a great bounce back season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Washington knew it had a specials talent in the then 24-year-old. They weren’t going to risk his career.
Seven years later, Strasburg helped the Nationals win their first-ever World Series. He was named MVP. The club likely saved Strasburg from himself.
The Giants need to do the same with the 22-year-old Barkley. They need to do it now.
It’s hard to know whether there are more of less team-first players in the NFL. Fortunate for us, a young-in-age, old-in-soul player wears the No.26 in blue. It would be nice to have him healthy and relentless for years to come.