Tiki Barber did some memorable things in the NFL. He played 10 years with the New York Giants, broke the 1,000-yard rushing mark six times and finished among the league’s top 20 rushers of all time. Yet arguably the most memorable chapter in his NFL career was his decision to retire.
Barber stunned the Giants and the rest of the league when he hinted that he was leaning toward retirement at the end of the 2006 season, even though he was at the height of his pigskin prowess. Most football stars are forced into retirement because their abilities deteriorate or because of injuries. Few players walk away from the game on their own terms – the operative word here is walk. Barber was concerned about the cumulative effects on his body from all the pounding an NFL running back takes and he wanted to avoid being crippled in his old age.
Rushing legends Jim Brown and Barry Sanders also retired at the top of their games, but there’s a distinctive difference between how those players hung it up and how Barber called it quits. The news of their retirement came in the off-season. The revelation that Barber would hang up his cleats came mid-season while playing for a team that was trying to fight its way into the playoffs.
He was roundly criticized for letting down his teammates and becoming a distraction. Among his more vocal critics was former Cowboys’ receiver turned commentator Michael Irvin, who ironically, was (among other things) known to cause an occasional off-field distraction or two.
Barber shot back at Irvin and his critics for not checking with him, his coaches, or teammates before coming to their conclusions. He also derisively referred to Irvin as the “ultimate character guy.”
The controversy seemed to do little to dim Tiki’s image, however. He remained popular with fans and landed an endorsement for the Cadillac Escalade in which he talked about his future plans. As he neared retirement, Disney, Fox and NBC all made overtures for his service. In each case, the offer would include a news role, as well as being a football analyst because Barber had long seen himself as something more than just a jock. Shortly after the football season ended, he reached a deal with NBC to become a correspondent on the “Today Show” along with providing analysis for the network’s Sunday night football studio show.
While Barber went out of football with a whiff of controversy – good stuff for someone going into the news business – he came into the league as something of a novelty.
He was one half – the offensive half – of the talented Barber twins, who were finishing up outstanding college careers at Virginia. His brother Ronde was drafted as a cornerback with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Taken in the second round -- one round ahead of his brother – Atiim Kiambu Hakeem-ah Barber, "Tiki" for short, was seen as a player who would be utilized in spot to duty behind Rodney Hampton. Hampton faded quickly, however, and retired after the 1997 season. Barber began the 1998 season as the starter but was inconsistent and wound up being the backup. He started only one game in 1999, but was effective as a receiver and returning punts. In 2000, the Giants drafted Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, a beefy, power runner who weighed more 250 pounds; he had been a hefty 270 when he finished high school, but he cut his weight down once he reached the NFL. The idea was to pair Dayne’s brawn with Barber’s speed to create something the Giants dubbed “Thunder and Lightning.”
Thunder never lived up to the hype, however, and 2000 wound up being the year that Barber convinced the Giants that he could be a feature back. He topped 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career and took the Giants to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Baltimore Ravens.
After an off year in 2001, Barber strung together five seasons as one of the top backs in the game, finishing in the top 10 in rushing yards each season.
In 2004, the Giants switched coaches, replacing the more cerebral Jim Fassel with bombastic Tom Coughlin. From the beginning, Barber seemed to bristle at what he called “the Coughlin way.” Coughlin desperately wanted to use Dayne as the featured back, but Barber kept the job on merit. After the 2005 season ended with a loss to Carolina Panthers, Barber said the Giants were “out-coached.” The two had a one-on-one film session and publicly patched things up. After Barber retired, he said Coughlin’s grinding style had played a role in his leaving the game when did.
Tiki on the web
Simon & Schuster: Tiki Barber home page
Publisher’s home page with a biography, links and summaries of Tiki and Ronde’s books.
Pro-football-reference-com: Tiki Barber page
Year-by-year stats for Barber.
YouTube: Tiki Barber tribute
Fan-created video with images from Barber’s career, set to Fort Minor’s “Remember the Name.”
YouTube: Tiki Barber cartoon
Tiki proposes a monument – Mount-Could-Have-Rushed-More.
Latest on Tiki
Barber came out with his biography in the fall of 2007. His work with NBC had been generally well-received, other than among some of his former teammates, that is. After one of the Giants’ lackluster losses, Barber didn’t hesitate to criticize his former team, which ended up causing some friction. NBC Sunday night host Bob Costa’s teased Barber that the next day’s headlines would say, “It’s Tiki’s fault.”
News and Commentary
Newsday: Giants' running backs making up for loss of Barber
Early in the 2007 season, the Giants were coping with life after Barber.
N.Y. Times: Barber Finds the Right Fit and Friendship
How NBC topped rival suitors and gained Barber’s services.
NYDailynews.com: Seasoned rookie Tiki trains up for TV debut
Barber finds himself in the role of a rookie again as he starts new career.
Readers Digest: Tiki and Ronde Barber scoring extra-points
The Barber twins talk about their close bond in a 2006 profile.
On ball control
“Rushing the ball is all about ball control. If you run the ball, you control the clock. If you control the clock, you usually control the game.”
On whom Mom cheers for when he’s playing his brother
"Mom just probably roots for whoever is winning.”
On Coughlin’s style hastening his retirement
"Coach Coughlin is very hard-nosed, and I didn't get a lot of time off, couldn't sit down and rest myself, and so it was a constant grind -- a physical grind on me that started to take its toll."
On criticism over his retirement
"I will call them idiots, because they have neither spoken to me, nor any one of my teammates or any of my coaches. Yet all they do is criticize me for being a distraction with this retirement thing."