While 1,696 players plus another hundred or so practice squad players are taking the field for their first practices in preparation for this week’s games, former NFL running back Tiki Barber is not one of them.
I for one am not surprised at this development. During his last NFL season, Barber flirted with the broadcast gods over at 30 Rock. No, not the eponymous television show. The real one that poaches pretty bobble heads from regional markets, puts them on a fancy set and directs them to read the teleprompter with a smile. 30 Rock saw Barber as this generation’s Frank Gifford. Barber saw an opportunity in which he could maintain a public profile and make millions without sacrificing his body on game day.
A match made in heaven? More like a match made in hell.
After Barber left the gridiron, NBC placed him everywhere they could broadcast his million-megawatt smile. He had a spot on the Football Night In America pregame, the Today show as a correspondent, co-hosted the 66th Golden Globe Awards and did a star turn on an episode of Project Runway as a guest judge sitting beside Nina Garcia.
Barber had every opportunity to become a star but it was obvious to everyone who tuned in to NBC’s various programs that Barber was nothing like Gifford. He was the sport’s world answer to Alexis Glick, another pretty bobble head who was way out of her element when NBC network execs took her away from her financial background (CNBC correspondent) and forced her on us as an up and coming network star when she wasn’t ready or able to be one.
During this time Barber tried to establish himself as a football correspondent not afraid to tell it like it is, which meant throwing his former NFL team under the bus as they struggled through parts of their 2007 regular season. Specifically, he blamed head coach Tom Coughlin’s coaching style as contributing to his decision to retire and openly questioned Eli Manning’s leadership abilities.
Fast forward to 2011. Well after Barber’s broadcast career at NBC ended when his contract wasn’t renewed, he expressed an interest in resuming his NFL career, which in hindsight wasn’t bad. He was a Pro Bowl selection three times and led the NFL in yards from scrimmage every season between 2002 and his last season in 2006. You would think a veteran running back who was still one of the best in the game when he left would get a serious look after the NFL lockout ended but only the Miami Dophins kicked the tires on Barber and he left their camp without a contract.
What’s next for Tiki Barber? If he’s sincere about missing the game, he should consider playing in the UFL to prepare himself for a possible late-season acquisition by an NFL team looking to reach the Super Bowl.
Is the NFL black balling Barber? No. This has everything to do with Barber being treated like a woman. Why would an NFL general manager want a middle-aged player that hasn’t played in four years when they can get someone younger, hotter and at half price to play running back AND not rip their teammates and coach in the media after the game?
Being a middle-aged running back is hard. Being a selfish, middle-aged prima donna in an industry where you’re over the hill once you reach your thirtieth birthday is a career killer, and that’s why Tiki Barber is still waiting by the phone for the call that will most likely never come.