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Saquon Barkley is Giants leader that Odell Beckham couldn’t be

It is a handsome face, so often a smiling, happy face, and today it is quite something else:

It is the face of the New York Football Giants.

Eli Manning belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Giants, but championship memories are exactly that. Odell Beckham Jr. is a Cleveland Brown, and breathtaking memories are exactly that.

And so more than anyone now, the ball is in Saquon Barkley’s court.

This is his team, and it is a torn-down team he will be asked to lift from the ashes.

It is a daunting responsibility, one that will test him physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

He will be carrying the fading hopes and dreams of angry, demoralized, shell-shocked Giants fans, who will no longer get the chance to be left breathless by No. 13.

Saquon Barkley will look up into the stands, and the pressure to make the heartache and pain go away for all those loyal fans clad in his 26 jersey will be on him.

And he won’t blink.

Beckham struggled mightily when forced into a leadership role once Victor Cruz was gone. He simply did not know how to handle it. But Barkley is every coach’s dream, and he will embrace it.

He is one of those rare star players who can juke, and even hurdle if he has to, the trappings of success.

He was born for this.

He will be The Straw That Stirs The Drink for Pat Shurmur on the field and for John Mara, Steve Tisch and Dave Gettleman off it.

He will represent the Giants in the same classy, gentlemanly way that Manning has represented them every single day since Draft Day 2004.

“When he came in, he was already pro-ready,” Jonathan Stewart told me late in the season.

Stewart’s primary job last season was to serve as a mentor. Barkley didn’t need much mentoring.

“He’s like a sponge,” Stewart said. “He doesn’t ever have the mindset that he’s arrived, or that he knows everything, or that he has all the skill. And so he’s always looking for ways to get better, which is something that you see in a lot of great players.”

Beckham was popular with his teammates. Like Barkley, he burned to be legendary. But unlike Beckham, there will be no boat trip — though there won’t be a playoff game the next week either — no Lil Wayne interview, no Paris pizza video, no juvenile end-zone celebration, no sideline theatrics from Barkley — all the things that contributed to the Giants giving up on Beckham less than a year after signing him to a $90 million extension.

Barkley is an anachronism — when he scores a touchdown, he acts like he’s been there before. And over a career Gettleman is convinced will lead to Canton, Barkley will be there plenty.

Eli Manning and Barkley
Eli Manning and BarkleyGetty Images

He is a natural-born leader because of his athletic arrogance on the field and his selflessness and humbleness off it. It is always about the team with Barkley.

“You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the smarts to put it all together and understand that it’s more than physical and God-given ability, then you’re not really gonna make it that far,” Stewart said. “He’s very sharp mentally, very sure of himself and a true leader in a sense of getting the guys around him in an environment of winning.”

Barkley began talking about stepping into more of a leadership role as early as the beginning of October of his Rookie of the Year season.

“It’s no more time to be a rookie and be quiet on the sideline if I feel something’s wrong,” he said. “I got to bring the team up together.”

When EF Barkley talked, his teammates listened.

“It’s just the way you carry yourself, the way you work,” Barkley said later in the season. “Come to work with your head down, try to do anything you can possible to help the team. That stuff goes a long way. Obviously, your play on the field goes a long way, too, but try to be one of the first people in here, working your butt off in the weight room, asking questions, try to prepare yourself like a pro, like a vet. Stuff like that is what sits well with your team, and that’s how I try to continue to grow into that role.”

It is difficult to believe that he is only 22, too good to be true. I can honestly say that I cannot recall any rookie in any sport who showed up as polished as Barkley did. Perhaps David Wright.

“He’s vocal, and he’s confident in what he says, and he’s very sure of what he says, too, and I think that’s a great quality for him,” Stewart said. “He’s got a platform that a lot of people will never have. I think God blessed him with abilities on and off the field to really make an impact in a positive way.”

And the Face Of The Franchise, the Giants GM has told everyone, was touched by the hand of God.

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