When the New York Giants' star running back and biggest play-maker Tiki Barber announced that he was going to retire after the 2006 season — during the 2006 season — there were plenty of questions about his dedication to the sport and his team. All of which blew up out of control when Barber's book Tiki: My Life in the Game and Beyond was published in September. In it, he spoke frankly about Giants coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning. Now the guy with the photogenic smile is a correspondent for Today and a commentator on Football Night in America (tonight at 7 pm/ET, NBC, followed immediately by the Giants vs. the Washington Redskins game) — and he's setting the record straight on his Project Runway appearance, his former team and whether the New England Patriots can really go 16-0.
TVGuide.com: So how are you liking your first year in retirement? It's funny that it's "retirement," when you're clearly doing a lot of working....
Barber: I know, that's what I tell people when they ask, "How's retirement?" I'm not retired! I love it though. It's very engaging, and I'm finding out how to work in the real world. I have a fun job. I'm much busier, but doing diverse things. Sports are fun and passionate and exciting on Sundays, but for most of the week... I used to say they paid us for Monday through Saturday; Sunday was fun.
TVGuide.com: Do you have more time to spend with your wife and kids now that you're not playing football?
Barber: Completely. At Today, I'm only in the office infrequently. I've been home all day. I went into the office for only about two hours to get some information on a story I have tomorrow on the 8 o'clock hour. If I need to do anything, I can work from home. I went to Kids in Sports class with my son, and I went to lunch with my wife. I have two boys, 5 1/2 and almost 4. They love sports, obviously. And they're big into the holidays right now. They go to a Jewish preschool, and they teach a lot about Judaism there. And we're putting up a Christmas tree [at home] and taking them to see Santa, and my kids are singing Hanukkah songs. [Laughs] That's the great thing about New York.
TVGuide.com: It always seems like you, Jerome Bettis and Cris Collinsworth are having the best time in the "player's corner" over there on Football Night in America. Is that show as much fun to do as it is to watch?
Barber: It absolutely is. [Laughs] Literally what we're doing is what three guys who go sit in a bar all Sunday and watch football do. And they pay us for it! We watch television for five hours, they put us on air and say, "OK, you have two minutes to talk about this." And then we just go talk, like we're a bunch of friends hanging out. It's not scripted at all. It's just Cris saying, "What do you think?" And then we start talking. We figure out the subjects — so let's say we're watching the San Diego [Chargers] game. Last week against the Tennessee Titans, LT [running back LaDainian Tomlinson] on the sidelines got up in disgust and walked away from [quarterback] Philip Rivers. So 30 seconds before the segment, Cris is like, "We're going to talk about [that]." And then we just come out with a spontaneous reaction. We bounce off each other.
TVGuide.com: You and your wife both appeared on the Project Runway episode where the challenge was designing a look for you. What was that like?
Barber: It was great — I know they edited down what I said, when we were judging. But my wife was in the fashion industry for seven years, and so I know they edited down what she said. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Meaning you both said some things that were a bit more brutally honest than what they showed on the episode?
Barber: Yeah, a little bit. [Laughs] Quite honestly, it was an unfair challenge for the group, because most of them have never done men's clothing, and I'm not easy to fit, and I'm not wearing something that's "fashionable," that you would wear walking down the runway. And the guy who won, Jack [Mackenroth, who left the show this week], he did the easy thing, he kept it simple. And that's why he won.
TVGuide.com: Do you miss football at all?
Barber: I don't, not at all. The only thing I miss, and I get this still because of the industry I'm in, is the stage, performing. There's something about performing, putting yourself out there, that's hard to replicate. Though I get that on television, there's nothing like the immediacy and the energy of the stadium. But I don't miss the game.
TVGuide.com: With the injuries suffered by the Giants' running-back core this year, people have said the team sure could use you... you've never been tempted?
Barber: It's never crossed my mind. Even when my brother [twin Ronde] started lobbying me to come down to Tampa Bay when all their running backs got hurt. I told him, "You know what, dude, that mentality has passed me by." It's a mentality to make yourself want to do that. I don't have that anymore. Not to mention that I've lost about 15 pounds of muscle mass.
TVGuide.com: The Giants are in a good position to take the first Wild Card spot in the NFC. But it's been another season of ups and downs for the team. Are you surprised that they're doing this well?
Barber: They've ridden the roller coaster this year. But they are right where I expected them to be — they have a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator. I'm not in the locker room, but I've heard that Coach Coughlin has changed to the benefit of the team. He listens to the guys now. Whenever decisions need to be made, he sits down with his veteran leaders and asks their opinions. He may not use them, but at least he asks. People will look at the Giants at 9 and 4 and see their kind of inconsistent play and say, "They're no good." But it's all about winning — that's all that matters.
TVGuide.com: What about Eli — do you see any changes or progress in him?
Barber: Eli is what he is — people expect this magical transformation into his brother [Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning] or whatever all of a sudden.... He's not going to be the emotional guy, he's going to try to be that steady player who does his job well. The team accepts that. There's a resiliency there that comes from having to deal with all the criticism he gets, every week. Even when he plays pretty decently, he gets criticized, but he sloughs it off really easily. It may not be what fans want to see, but it's valuable for him.
TVGuide.com: How far do you think the Giants can realistically go into the playoffs?
Barber: Honestly, the Giants can go to the Super Bowl this year — they have to find a way to beat Dallas in Dallas, but every other team in the NFC is the same.
TVGuide.com: What about the Packers?
Barber: Maybe Green Bay. Dallas and Green Bay are above everyone else. But if the Giants can find a way to catch lightning in a bottle and beat one of those teams, they can go to the Super Bowl, because they could beat any other team in the playoffs.
TVGuide.com: What's your take on this week's game against the Giants' divisional rivals the Washington Redskins?
Barber: The Giants are very fortunate they're at home. They're going to have great energy from their fans, since it's December, it's playoff time. But the Redskins are a dangerous team because they can score points and they may rally around [backup QB] Todd Collins, now that [starter] Jason Campbell is out [due to injury]. The Giants should win, but they can't assume that — they have to play to a high level.
TVGuide.com: Plus the Redskins just went through this tragedy with Sean Taylor.
Barber: That story was horrible, because it seems to be a random act of someone trying to take advantage of Sean. You know, I played against Sean for four years, and I hated playing against him, because he would literally cuss at me for 60 minutes. And then I met him in Hawaii [at the Pro Bowl] last year, and he was a completely different guy. He really was a good guy who made himself hate his opponents so he would play well against them. But I think there's a lesson to be learned in how this was covered. A lot of people jumped out and said, "He grew up in this certain way, he had bad dealings with people, this was a vengeance thing." It's smarter to sit back and let it work itself out, let the police do their job before jumping to a conclusion.
TVGuide.com: Are you still in touch with your former teammates?
Barber: I keep in touch with a few of them. I took my running-back coach, Jerald Ingram, out about two weeks ago. We've been very close over the years. He calls me now and then for advice on how to deal with some of the guys. He's like, "Tiki, you're retired now, but I'm still going to use you as a coach." So when [featured back] Brandon [Jacobs] had a bad day, he's like, "How should I approach this?"
TVGuide.com: Since you have such natural coaching ability, is that something you would ever consider doing?
Barber: Maybe when my kids get to that age... when they get to 13 or 14 and in junior high school or high school, I would think about it. Not head coaching — assistant coaching. Head coaching is too much work. [Laughs] It's obviously something that was deeply embedded in who I am; I have a knowledge that could be valuable.
TVGuide.com: So I have to ask you: Do you think the Patriots will go 16-0?
Barber: I think they will, but I can't predict it, because I was playing in 1998 when the Denver Broncos were undefeated and had two more games [to win] to be the first to do it since the 1972 Dolphins. They came into Giants Stadium and we beat them, and we were horrible that year. So I know better than to predict. Because of the unprecedented, ridiculously exceptional year the New England Patriots are having, that is the standard that every team is being compared to. I think it just kind of feels good to think that it will happen. People want to see something spectacular. They want to see Tom Brady throw it to Randy Moss for a 75-yard touchdown; that's why you watch sports, because it's exciting in a way that most of life is not.
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