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For an update on what Jim Finn W’99 is up to these days, let’s ask Tiki Barber, Finn’s teammate on the New York Giants and one of the top running backs in the National Football League:

“I always bust Jim’s chops,” Barber said last month during a break at Giants training camp, where he and Finn and the rest of the Giants were being put through two-a-day workouts under a blazing sun. “He says, ‘Who wants to be like Jim Finn?’ and I say, ‘Oh, wait a second—you went to an Ivy League school, you play in the National Football League, and you’re married to an actress.’ I wish I was Jim Finn.”

Indeed. The Fair Lawn, New Jersey, native who arrived at Penn in the mid-1990s and was put at defensive back but left four years later as the fifth-leading rusher in school history, has carved out a nice living in the Giants’ backfield, mowing down would-be tacklers in front of Barber and helping him to the best season of his career in 2004. In the offseason, he lives in Hermosa Beach, California, with his wife, actress Rosa Blasi of the Lifetime television series Strong Medicine. All things considered, it’s good to be Jim Finn these days.

His current success did not come without a major adjustment, however. Each year a new crop of hot-shot running backs rolls off the assembly line at the major-college football factories, which means even a player with Finn’s gaudy credentials will largely be ignored by NFL teams simply because he played a level down in Division 1-AA. Finn’s strategy for overcoming that built-in bias could serve as sage advice for any college graduate preparing to dive into the real world.

“It comes down to being a team player and knowing your role,” he said. “At Penn, I needed to do a lot more things with the ball in my hands, and here I’m just a link in the chain, just doing my job to help this team become better. Coming out of school I knew that my role would be a blue-collar, dirty-work type of player, and I accepted it because I knew that would be the role I would be best suited to. Some guys can’t accept that, and those are the guys that don’t last a year. They get weeded out right away.”

After leading the Quakers to the Ivy championship as a senior in 1998—his most cherished Penn memory is of winning the title and watching fans tear down the goalpost at Franklin Field and throw it into the Schuylkill River— Finn was drafted in the 7th round in 1999 by the Chicago Bears, who released him that summer. From there he caught on with Indianapolis, where he was used as a blocking back but spent more time on special teams, the NFL’s haven for players who don’t mind using their bodies as guided missiles on punt and kickoff returns. He was picked up by the Giants before the 2003 season, and soon impressed players and coaches with his work ethic and football smarts.

“I love the hell out of him. I think he’s the most underrated fullback out there,” said Giants running backs coach Jerald Ingram. “He’s smart, he’s reliable, he and Tiki have a great relationship. What you’re looking for in a fullback to be successful is, Does he help get the ball past the line of scrimmage when there’s a breakdown up front? Jim can do that. I’d rather have a smart player any day, than a guy who’s going to look good on the hoof but grade out at 40 to 50 percent.”

One of the players Finn won over was Barber, and the two have developed a close relationship. Barber, a Virginia native, fell in love with New York and found himself drawn to Finn, who grew up practically within sight of the Manhattan skyline. Both players said their on-field chemistry has benefited from their off-field friendship. While Barber’s continued development into one of the league’s elite running backs is thanks in part to Finn’s blocking ability, Finn knows he must keep proving himself every year or the assembly line will swallow him up.

“Hopefully I’ll keep going for a couple more years if I can stay healthy and keep playing at a high level,” he said. “Every year there’s a younger and stronger guy trying to take your job. As you get older, they get younger. If you ever relax and get complacent, there’s going to be a guy to come take your job.”

—David Porter

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