Easy to forget amidst the NFL’s ongoing labor battle is one of the weirder non-lockout stories of this offseason – Tiki Barber wants to play football again. Of course, he won’t get the chance until the league strikes a deal with the players anyway, but the idea’s just crazy enough that Barber might catch on somewhere. After all, he walked away from the NFL when he was still relatively young and productive, plus his twin brother’s still in the league, and playing well.
Barber, of course, has also had an…eventful last year or so. And that came after everyone already hated him for throwing his old teammate Eli Manning (and coach Tom Coughlin) under the bus after he retired. The controversy, the talent, the possibly-ill-conceived comeback, the varied interests outside of sports that made him a seemingly-ideal candidate for a TV career that instead flamed out – it’s ideal fodder for, say, a magazine profile. This week, SI’s Jon Wertheim delivered…and in saying some curious things, so did Barber.
The Renaissance Man aspect of Barber shone through to Wertheim – he noted that in conversation, Barber “works in references ranging from Tony Soprano to Malcolm Gladwell.” But what also shone through was how some didn’t see his persona as entirely genuine. Said former Giants teammate Roman Oben:
“[W]e’d beat the Cowboys and fly home. Guys are yelling, playing cards and watching movies. Tiki’s sitting there, legs crossed, reading Wuthering Heights or whatever. Come on.”
But whether or not it’s genuine, that kind of thing just is Barber…even if he shouldn’t be saying it at all. At one point, he described to Wertheim what life was like when the New York Post first published details of his affair with current girlfriend Traci Johnson:
Barber and Johnson went into hiding in the attic of Lepselter’s house in New Jersey. “Lep’s Jewish,” says Barber, “and it was like a reverse Anne Frank thing.”
Bad idea. Very bad idea. Bad enough idea that SI (smartly) teased the story with that line before the story actually came out. We can’t explain it better than Wertheim did: “Here is Barber writ small: He has the wit and smarts to make an Anne Frank allusion and the artlessness to liken himself—an adulterer trying to elude gossip columnists—to a Holocaust victim.”
He’s an interesting guy, Barber – full of contradictions. Sometimes, those get him in trouble (and clearly, he’s deserved that trouble plenty of times). But those contradictions also make him the kind of guy worth profiling in Sports Illustrated. And at least one aspect of Barber never wavered…that guy could play. His NFL comeback might not succeed (and might even be more entertaining if it doesn’t), but we’ll be watching. Just one request, Tiki: if things don’t work out, don’t make any historical comparisons.