transition from feature tailback to talk show sidekick has been rocky
for Tiki Barber. He has tried to be as cutting and occasionally
inflammatory as other sports commentators, yet he has been criticized
as an athlete and disloyal teammate, instead of a burgeoning television
Barber’s longtime agent Mark Lepselter thinks that the media should lay
off their new colleague. “Half the people that throw darts couldn’t
take it themselves,” he said.
Unlike his predecessors, the loquacious Barber made his private
thoughts about his former team very public. He wrote that Giants head
coach Tom Coughlin took the joy out of football. He disparaged quarterback Eli Manning’s leadership abilities.
Then he sat back and watched his draconian former coach with his
comical quarterback win Super Bowl XLII. According to the New York
tabloids, the dramatic turn of events has left Barber with egg on his face.
Barber’s perceived humiliation has fueled speculation that the Today Show
host is pondering a comeback. Tampa Bay reportedly had interest in
Barber last fall, and Tiki to Tampa makes sense given the Buccaneers’
questions at tailback and the presence of Tiki’s twin brother Ronde, a
veteran Bucs defender.
But Barber’s agent says there is no truth to the Barber family football
reunion. “That’s a fantastic rumor, but there is just no truth to it.”
Lepselter said. “I don’t think Tiki has touched a weight in a year.”
Fans and the media have been so quick to turn on a player perceived to
have thrown his teammates under the bus, the fact that Tiki was
absolutely right about the faults of the 2006 Giants has been
There have been so many stories about Tom Coughlin’s new attitude
and approach that you’d think Mitt Romney coached the Giants. The
Coughlin that Tiki knew was told by new general manager Jerry Reese to
lighten up or lose his job, just weeks after Barber retired rather than
face another year of Coughlin’s soul crushing practice schedule.
Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning threw only one interception in the playoffs,
a shocking turnaround for a quarterback who led the league in
interceptions during the regular season. Manning’s transition from
disinterested dauphin to ice-blooded assassin was not complete until
David Tyree caught a football with his head.
The coach and quarterback who are taking a victory lap through the
Tri-State area are simply better at their jobs than they where when
Barber took off his pads for the last time. The improvements that
helped the Giants win the Super Bowl were not evident a year ago, to
Tiki or anyone else.
As an analyst and studio host, Barber still has a lot to learn. But as
an athlete Barber had a lot left in the tank when he retired after the
2006 season. Starting all 16 games for the second consecutive year,
Barber finished with 1662 yards rushing, and over 2000 all purpose
yard. He carried a 2006 Giant team with a suspect passing game and an
injury riddled defense all the way to the playoffs.
Despite the obvious tread still left on his tires, Barber has committed
himself to learning his new position as thoroughly as he mastered his old one.
“Tiki is fully entrenched in the media business,” Lepselter said.
Retiring when he did, Barber joined a growing list of running backs
–football’s most punishing position – to leave the game on their own
terms, and with their own knee cartilage. Robert Smith, the Minnesota
Vikings all time leading rusher, left the game at 28, right
after his 2000 Vikings were vaporized, 41-0, by Tiki’s Giants in the
NFC Championship game. Hall of Famer Barry Sanders retired at 30, a
year or a year and half away from breaking the NFL’s all time rushing
record. Dissatisfaction with their organizations contributed to both
Smith and Sanders’ early exits, but both men also walk without a limp.
Barber is understandably burned by the criticism he has received from
Giants fans. Always undersized for his position, Barber is used to
taking a clean shot, then getting up and going back to work.
“It speaks to Tiki’s intestinal fortitude to just go on with his life,” Lepselter said.