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To serve all mankind, and win a Super Bowl

If Jessie Armstead and Micheal Barrow can lead the Giants to a world title, they just might be superheroes.

[AP photo]
Giants linebacker Jessie Armstead

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 11, 2001


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It may look like Giants Stadium, but it's really the Hall of Justice. It may appear they are wearing royal blue and red every game, but linebackers Jessie Armstead and Micheal Barrow really are dressed in a different type of costume when they roam the field for the G-Men.

"It's like Superman and Batman together, you know," Barrow said of his reunion with Armstead. "We're like Super Friends."

Eight years after playing superhero linebackers for the University of Miami, Armstead and Barrow joined forces again this season in the shadow of Gotham City. Barrow, who made it clear he is Superman, signed with the Giants after four years with the Oilers and four with Carolina. Armstead, who has spent his career in New York, welcomed his old friend with open arms.

Now the superheroes might play in the Super Bowl.

photo
[AP photo]
Michael Barrow
"When Michael first came in, I knew a lot of great things could happen for this team and this defense," Armstead said. "He's a smart linebacker, and he's a type of guy whose motor always keeps going. And then you got two motors playing the same position at the same time and the sky's the limit for the defense.

"I know Barrow. I know him better than the scouts and all that. I know him; I played with him. I knew he could run sideline to sideline and make plays. I knew we would have another guy who could stretch the field with me."

Although they have lockers next to each other and remain close, their divergent career paths went in a lot of directions since Armstead, 30, and Barrow, 30, formed two-thirds of one of the greatest linebacking corps in college football history. Barrow, Armstead and Darrin Smith were a UM trio destined for NFL greatness after helping the Hurricanes to two national titles.

But though the 6-foot-2 Barrow and the 6-1 Smith were drafted in the second round, the 6-foot Armstead went in the eighth round because of questions about his size and debilitating knee and shoulder injuries from his senior season.

Armstead, however, has enjoyed the most professional success. After beginning his career as a special-teams ace, he worked his way into the starting lineup and has earned four consecutive Pro Bowl trips. Though Smith and Barrow have had success, neither has gone to the league all-star game.

"I've been looking at his career take off since he's been in the league, and he's really taken his game to another level," Barrow said. "But I know whenever we get together it's always like that brotherly love, that brotherly competition that we have on the field. He'll be like, 'That's my tackle' No, that's my tackle. 'That's my play.' No, that's my play. It's been good."

Armstead led the team with 101 tackles. Barrow had 94 despite getting off to a slow start because of a neck injury and a lack of familiarity with defensive coordinator John Fox's complex system. In the last month of the regular season, however, Barrow led the team in tackles in three of four games.

The two are viewed as key elements in New York's improved defense and improved attitude. Armstead always has been a vocal leader, but coach Jim Fassel said Barrow has given a lot to the team on and off the field.

"He brings an amount of enthusiasm," Fassel said. "He had a great work ethic in the off-season, and I just like overall the way he is as a person, the way he works at practice, the way he plays. "(Armstead and Barrow) didn't have to build a respect for one another. They had it when Micheal walked in the door because they knew each other and they played side by side."

Barrow almost didn't walk through the door. He was particular in deciding where to continue his career after his surprising release from Carolina in February. He drafted a list of questions and concerns for Giants vice president and general manager Ernie Accorsi. They were more than contractual questions. Barrow asked Accorsi if he was going to make the right moves to improve the Giants.

"Me and my wife, we got on our knees and just prayed to God and asked him to put us in the place where he wanted us to be. And we wrote down some questions, and when we got here, it was like those questions were answered," Barrow said.

Barrow also quizzed Armstead.

"He asked me if we had a chance of making a drive to the Super Bowl, and I told him, 'We need a little more help around here, and we would love to have you on the defensive side of the ball with us,' " Armstead said. "I told him just like that, and I knew he was telling the truth. If I felt like we didn't have a chance, I'm not going to tell my friend that we have a chance."

Armstead's vision proved prophetic, and now the two hope the dream season ends in Tampa. The only thing better would have been facing Smith and his Saints in the NFC Championship Game.

"Darrin? We called him 'Flash,' " Barrow said. "He was the fastest out of the three of us. Now his booty is so big, I don't think he can run as fast as the rest of us. I think I can take him now."

Three superheroes with a sense of humor.

- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

* * *

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Vikings at Giants, 12:30 p.m. Sunday. TV: Ch. 13.

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