WEB EXCLUSIVE: Tiki Barber's agent speaks about the former Giants' intestinal fortitude and claims he's not going to Tampa Bay
The 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 analyst.
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](http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/giants/2007/08/26/2007-08-26_barber_buzz_cut_might_last_all_year.html).
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](http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/giants/2008/02/07/2008-02-07_ringless_tiki_barber_staying_mum-2.html).
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 completely overlooked.
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.
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