While his New York Giants team is gearing up for its biggest challenge of the season today, Ramses Barden has found himself in another fight.
The war to get onto the playing field.
“It is tough to watch your team win or lose without you, I want to be involved, want to help,” Barden said by phone before the Giants left for Indianapolis, site of today’s Super Bowl XLVI. “As a competitor, you don’t want to be someone who watches from the sideline.”
It’s been a tough transition for the former star from Cal Poly, who has gone from a record-breaking receiver with the Mustangs to a sparingly used wide receiver on the NFL stage. But for Barden, if there’s a silver lining he’s taken from watching his team turn a 9-7 record to a Super Bowl berth against the New England Patriots without him, it’s quite simple.
“Sure, not playing motivates me, it makes me work harder in practice, makes me pay a little more attention to detail, watch more tape,” Barden said. “I just need to control what I can control, and make sure I am giving everything I can to this game, which is what I’ve been doing.”
However, for most of this year, playing hasn’t even been an option. After missing 10 games last season because of an ankle injury, he underwent offseason surgery and started the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.
“Usually when you have surgery, on any part of your body, they say it takes over a year for you to start really felling like yourself again. They say it takes two years for you not to notice anything,” Barden said. “If that’s the case, I am definitely ahead of schedule.”
Even before the injury, it’d been a struggle, as he’s just managed a total of 15 catches for 174 yards with New York in his three-year career. That comes after the hype of being a third-round draft pick out of Cal Poly where he set numerous school and NCAA records, including breaking Jerry Rice’s Football Championship Subdivision record of catching a TD pass in 32 straight games. Some Giants faithful hailed him as a big receiver capable of replacing Plaxico Burress, who caught the game-winning pass in the Super Bowl four years ago.
“I’ve joked with people since getting here that I’ve been one of the biggest fan favorites to not have a touchdown on offense,” Barden said. “But, I just work my butt off, I rehab every day trying to make sure that I am as healthy as possible. And if I get the opportunity to play, I’ll be very grateful.”
The NFL playbook has been the hardest part for Barden to master. Coming from a limited role in a triple-option offense at Cal Poly, a set of five different routes in college has evolved to plays with 12 different options in the NFL.
But, according to Andy Guyader, the wide receivers coach at Army who was Barden’s position coach at Cal Poly, Barden’s fighting that challenge with one of his best assets: his football savvy.
“He learns the game very quickly and very thoroughly,” Guyader said. “He is really a tireless worker, once he knows what he needs to do, there are not many things that will stand in his way to get that done.”
Guyader and former Cal Poly offensive coordinator Ian Shields, who holds the same position at Army, both knew while watching Barden as a freshman at Cal Poly that he could be a consistent threat in the NFL. And after watching the 6-foot-6 receiver catch 206 passes for 4,203 yards and 50 touchdowns with the Mustangs, now it’s just a matter of when.
“I think he is capable of being a starter in that league and being a productive player in that league,” Shields said. “Some of that is good fortune. You need to be surrounded by the right cast, you need to have the right opportunity, you obviously need to stay healthy, and when all those stars align, I would anticipate that happening. We all know what type of player he can be when he is right.”
For now, he is a reserve wide receiver on a team seeking its second Super Bowl title in five years. If he gets a chance to get on the field today, Barden — who was on the Giants inactive list in all of their first three playoff games — says he’ll do his best to make the most of it. But, even if he doesn’t, Barden still has a lot of football in front of him, Shields said.
With a win in the Super Bowl today, Barden would become just the third player from Cal Poly to do so. Mel Kaufman won two as a linebacker with the Washington Redskins in 1982 and 1988, and LeCharls McDaniel won one as a backup cornerback in 1982, also with the Redskins.
“The thing is, it’s not over yet,” Shields said. “He still has a chance to fulfill his goals at that level, whether it’s there or someplace else down the road. I think there is still football in front of Ramses. I don’t think we’re done watching him play.”