This week, we’re celebrating some of our favorite random plays and obscure moments in NFL history — those that WE will never forget, even if others have. Welcome to “Who Remembers?” Week at SB Nation NFL.
Marion Barber played seven seasons in the NFL and scored 59 total touchdowns. He had 43 plays where he gained 20 yards or more and put up 129 rushing yards in a Divisional Round playoff game in 2008. He was, by most measures, a pretty good running back.
And yet, his greatest play as a pro resulted in only two net yards.
Barber’s first-and-20 carry back in Week 6 of the 2007 season should have ended in disaster. The Cowboys were 5-0 when they welcomed the Patriots to Texas, but they were still a five-point underdog to a New England team that had beaten all five of its opponents by 17 points or more. Tony Romo had helped push his team out front 24-21 in the third quarter, but Dallas needed a spark after the Pats’ record-setting offense retook the lead.
Enter Barber and his shake-and-bake end zone magic.
The third-year back took an off-tackle carry toward a rapidly collapsing left side of his line. When it became clear no daylight would open for him, he reversed course to find his only way out was back. He shook off an arm tackle from a blitzing Rodney Harrison, powered through a diving tackle from 300-pound nose tackle Ty Warren, stepped backward to shrug off Junior Seau, and then found himself three yards deep in his own end zone.
Then things got fun.
Barber cut back to his right to outrun Vince Wilfork, stiff-armed a tackle from safety James Sanders, ran through a diving Asante Samuel, and slipped through Jarvis Green’s lunging takedown to escape a safety. Then he charged forward to scoot past Mike Vrabel, finally crossed his own line of scrimmage, and pushed upfield before getting shoved out of bounds by Eugene Wilson.
In all, Barber ran roughly 60 yards. He slung off tackles from one Hall of Famer (Seau) and five other All-Pros (Harrison, Warren, Wilfork, Samuel, Vrabel). He ate up 38 seconds of game clock. He gained two yards.
The run didn’t swing the balance of the game for the Cowboys. Romo followed up with a pair of incomplete passes and Dallas punted the ball to the Patriots with just under 19 minutes left in the game. New England responded to Barber’s heroics with a 20-3 run to turn a 28-24 lead into a 48-27 victory.
But for one brief moment, Barber was a beacon of resiliency for an underdog home team facing the greatest offense, to that date, the league had ever seen. The Cowboys went on to a 13-3 record that fall thanks to a Pro Bowl performance from their backup tailback. Barber finished the season with a career-high 975 yards and 10 touchdowns while Julius Jones and his 3.6 yards-per-carry average got the glory of announcing his alma mater at the start of every primetime game.
And that’s OK, because Barber’s career wasn’t about accolades or getting his name up on the marquee. It was all about the journey — even when the destination was only two yards away.