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The Tiki Barber Story
What a ride it's been. New York's all-time leading rusher opens up to Go Long on life and football.
Tiki Barber was a generation ahead of his time. Not only did he go on to shatter team rushing records, but the New York Giants running back was always equally comfortable in front of a mic. Today, he’s the excellent co-host of “Tiki and Tierney” on WFAN in New York.
Young fans may not remember how dominant Barber was slashing through defenses… especially his final three seasons. Indeed, Barber retired at the absolute peak of his powers. The Giants won a Super Bowl the next season.
Always opinionated, Barber’s relationship with fans has been quite unique.
I thoroughly enjoyed this chat on life and football. We discuss:
Why Barber retired early and if he has any regrets.
Clashing with Tom Coughlin and the time the Giants head coach taught players how to, uh, put on socks.
The game of his life after Giants co-owner Wellington Mara passed away. He was at Mara’s bedside. Then, he was in the end zone. A roller-coaster of emotions.
His own darkness after retirement and that near comeback in 2011.
Reconnecting with his estranged father.
His thoughts on the 2023 Giants and Daniel Jones.
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The goal is to bring you as close as possible to real pro football:
I feel like you’re one of the all-time greats and we have to keep thumping people over the head with that reality — it shouldn’t get lost in time.
Barber: Look, running backs are disrespected now. Think about how the old guys are disrespected. They never paid us any money and they didn’t appreciate us. Unless you were Jim Brown.
You have every record you could possibly have as a Giants running back…
Barber: …except for one. Touchdowns. Brandon Jacobs has me by like (five). There were at least a dozen times where I got caught on the 3-yard line, 2-yard line. I’m trying not to look at the sideline. As soon as I look at the sideline, I know I’m going to be told, “Get your ass over here!” And here comes big-ass, 6-5, 250 Brandon Jacobs to smash in and grab the touchdown. I’m like, “God!”
10,449 rushing yards. 5,183 receiving yards. The 2005 season, that was the second-most total yards for anyone ever at the time — 2,390. And it’s funny you bring up Jacobs. One of my best friends fell in love with the Giants because of you and he said I had to ask about Brandon Jacobs stealing all of your touchdowns.
Barber: It’s so true, though. I wish it was a facetious, half-joking thing. It’s the truth! He had all of his touchdowns because I didn’t know how to score. By the way, scoring is an art. There’s a process — whether it’s an extra two yards or breaking a 30-yarder. There’s an art to doing it. I just never had it. I could score the easy ones but I couldn’t do the hard ones. LaDainian Tomlinson was the perfect example. He knew how to get that extra whatever and get into the end zone. And that’s why he’s a Hall of Famer and I’m second on this all-time touchdown list for the Giants. But I don’t mind. I just take it out on B.J. every now and then.
A lot of folks probably don’t know your upbringing — Roanoke, Va., raised by a single Mom. Obviously you and Ronde were probably closer than we can imagine. What was your childhood like?
Barber: My Mom and Dad were divorced when we were really young. Until recently — in the last decade — I didn’t have a relationship with my Dad. Now, we’re very close. So, it was just my Mom. She worked two, sometimes three jobs. On the weekends. She always made it feel like we didn’t need anything. Even though we knew we weren’t rich. We never felt like we needed anything, and that was mostly because of my Mom. I think the reason it worked was because I had a twin brother. If I was an only child, it wouldn’t have been as easy for her to deal with us. But we loved to be in each other’s company when we were younger. We would never leave each other’s sides. We always had each other’s back. My Mom used to say we’d speak this other language. Which I think was just mumbling. Saying words and mumbling but we could understand what we were saying. As we got a little bit older, we started playing some sports. I was always fast. When you’re eight to 10, if you’re fast, you’re going to be good at sports. Football and wrestling and track and field was what led to us having good high school careers and going on to college and then, ultimately, to the NFL. It’s a little bit more complicated than that. But I felt like my childhood was not one of harsh lessons that turned me into the success that I was. I always felt like I was taken care of, and a lot of that was because of my Mom.
You look like Ronde. You sound like Ronde. I have to think you screwed with people in high school and college.
Barber: We never did. Because we were too shy. We weren’t un-shy until we got to the NFL. That was just because we got to the NFL. You finally get some money in your pocket and people care about you a little bit. But before that? If we didn’t know you, we were not talking to you. We had a very close-knit group of friends. And other than that, it was “Who the hell are you? What are you doing here?” So, we never played tricks. I don’t think we felt confident doing it. Now, if we had the personalities we have right now? Back then? Forget it.
Drafted in ’97. You go 36th overall to the Giants. Ronde goes 77th. But just reading about you both at that time, is it true that he was singularly focused with football — obsessed with football — and you get to New York City and become enamored with stuff beyond the field?
Barber: Ronde almost didn’t make it. As crazy as that sounds. He’s a Hall of Famer now. But there was a point early in his career where you probably would’ve said, “He’s not going to make it in the NFL.” His first 10, 12 games. Maybe even going into his second season. But then he just figured it out because he had the right coaches. Tony Dungy was fantastic obviously. Mike Tomlin. These mentors who went onto great things in their respective coaching careers helped Ronde evolve into a player who could contribute and then thrive. Monte Kiffin was the biggest one because he put Ronde in positions to be unique.
He really changed the game.
Barber: Exactly. He’s a Hall of Famer and it’s not because he was the biggest and had the most interceptions. It was because he did everything. He was uniquely defensive. If you look at the linebacker/corner position in the NFL, it is what it is now because of Ronde. The reason that nickel is a base defense — three defensive backs is a base defense now, to the point where they even have a nickel in the Pro Bowl — all of that is because of Ronde. He could play linebacker and have 100-plus tackles. So to answer your question more directly, Ronde was put in a position where he had to scramble to make it early. So he became obsessed with it. He never became un-obsessed with it. Everything was about making it. And even after he made it, he was still trying to make it. It’s why he played for 16 years and helped them win a Super Bowl.
I started right away. I was one of the very few Giant rookies in their history up to that point that started on my very first opening day. I was good for four or five games. And then I got hurt. I tore my PCL in my right knee and my gait changed my speed game changed. I missed three games and really didn’t play for six. I just turned into this different person. Not someone that I recognized and I didn’t feel comfortable in my own body. As a result, I started wondering if this is what I wanted to do. Can I play this game as a 200-pound back? And I’m half-hurt? So in my offseason, I started doing other stuff. It started at WFAN, working overnights with Joe Benigno in this little shitty basement at the bottom of this Queens studio. I ultimately turned it into a media career that just kept growing and growing and growing because I started to get better and better and better as a Giant. When you’re in New York, and you’re a successful athlete, you can literally do whatever you want. You can get away with murder. But also, the opportunities just come to your doorstep. I’ve never been one to turn away from an opportunity. So I grew these two parallel paths. One was as a football player who was trending toward the all-time leading rusher. But also this other media career that had a lot of interest to me. There are so many different and diverse people in the media world that it made my jumping-off point — when I retired — really easy.
So many guys when they get to the end of their careers on their respective fields are: “I have no idea what I’m going to do.” Maybe that’s changed a little bit now with how they’ve developed brands. But in my day, you didn’t know what you were going to do when you spent a decade in football. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, probably four, five years into my NFL career.
And that was so different for your time. Five games into your last year, you said, “This is my last year.” Because you don’t want to beat the hell out of your body. You have other interests. You’re charismatic. You’re thinking ahead in a way players really weren’t then. I think Giant fans didn’t know how to wrap their minds around it: “No, no! You’re going to play until we say you can’t play anymore!”
Barber: As a fan, you do take ownership of the players on your team. You love them. You want them to play forever. You want them to help you win a championship. At that time, you’re right. It was four, five games into my last season. I just knew I didn’t want to do it anymore. I still knew I was going to be good and I had a really good last season. But the grind had wore on me. My body felt terrible. I didn’t want to get beat up anymore. It led me to truly pursue a media career. At the time, I was working for Fox News on my off days. In the mornings, I’d do “Fox and Friends.” Sometimes, they’d have me do other shows. I was doing so many different things that it became, “Tiki can do anything.” So, I wanted to take advantage of that. And I didn’t want to get beat up anymore. So, I did. I jumped when the iron was hot. Went to The Today Show and had a fun three or four years there, before ultimately I came over to CBS and I’ve been here for a decade-plus now.
Do you regret it? We’re so many years removed now. Obviously they won the Super Bowl the next year.
Barber: You know what? I didn’t think they were close to winning a Super Bowl. I didn’t think the Giants were anywhere near winning a Super Bowl. It’s revisionist history to say it was inevitable. It wasn’t. Tom Coughlin almost got fired in ’06, leading into the ’07 season. That was a real thing. And if he hadn’t changed some of his ways of treating the players, he would’ve been. Because he did — and you have to respect him for it — because now he’s a Hall of Fame head coach, those guys responded. And they played their ass off for him. From being disliked — heavily disliked — to being someone these guys loved. And that’s a credit to Coach Coughlin. But at the time, I didn’t think that was going to happen. Nor did I want to be a part of it because I didn’t want to get beat up anymore. The running back has changed in today’s NFL. Maybe they get 60 percent of the touches, except for Christian McCaffrey, who never leaves the field. There’s a guy who does this. There’s another guy who does this. There’s another guy who does that. I did everything. Other than score touchdowns. I did everything. I’d have 400-plus touches a year. I struggled to stay at 205. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. So, people always ask me: “Do you regret leaving?” “Timing’s a bitch,” is my response. I could’ve stayed another year. Or we could’ve won the year that I left. I don’t know. It didn’t go into my calculation. What I cared about was feeling fulfilled in what I was doing professionally. At that point, it wasn’t football anymore. So I don’t regret it because I didn’t want to do it. You know how much work it takes to be an NFL player and do well at it? It’s a grind, man.
Especially when you’re training with Joe Carini, the Strongman.
Barber: Exactly. He’s throwing 600 pounds on my back and saying, “Go squat and take a walk.” It’s crazy.
No thanks. Give me a drink.
Barber: I loved it until I didn’t.
Your Jeremy Shockey stories had me cracking up and Brandon Short told me about the time he called Tom Coughlin an “asshole” right in the papers. The next day, Brandon asked Jeremy about it and he said it’s a free country and kept walking. Coughlin was old school, and you guys went at it very publicly. What was it really like?
Barber: It’s the idea of, “I’m respecting you. You also have to respect me.” Especially since I’m not a kid. I’m not 21 years old. I’m 28 years old. I’ve been busting my ass, trying to make this Giant franchise relevant and good and, yes, we went to the Super Bowl but that was five years ago. I’m still all-in here. I give every ounce of myself to this team, to this organization, to my teammates. He was trying to weed out guys who didn’t buy in. Maybe that works in college. Maybe that worked in a start-up — the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. To me, it didn’t fly with the Giants. But, again, to his credit and I respect the hell out of him, he changed. And he won two Super Bowls because of it.
Outside looking in, you had your three best seasons at the end.
Barber: I give him a lot of credit for turning me into the player who was a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro. It was a lot because of him and his coaching staff. Jerald Ingram, who doesn’t get enough mention — my running backs coach — really changed my career. By getting me to focus on being strong and in the right places so I was durable to take the pounding I was taking. But also how to stop putting the ball on the turf. Changing mechanically how I carried the football. Everything is physics. Science rules our world. Whether you want to talk about how particles interact with one another, but also how leverage matters in a game. He taught me that and it changed the trajectory of the latter part of my career.
You had 12 lost fumbles in two years, and then almost nothing after that. Was it a matter of holding the ball higher? I can picture you now. Even if you feel like you’re in the open field — and you might be able to pump those arms — you were safe with it.
Barber: I changed how I carried the football. And my attention to detail. Honestly, the biggest thing that I still take from Coach Coughlin is that the details matter. The big things that everybody sees and talks about, it’s interesting. It’s low-hanging fruit. But the details are what matter.
He probably had idiosyncrasies we can’t even wrap our minds around.
Barber: He taught us how to put our socks on so we don’t get blisters. I tell people that all the time. We had a meeting about how to put our socks on so that we didn’t get blisters.
How do you endure a meeting like that as a 30-something year-old?
Barber: You kind of need to listen because he’s not wrong. We were having a lot of blisters. It’s stupid and simple things. You know that little line on your sock? There’s a reason it’s there and not on the bottom of your foot. Because if it’s on the bottom of your foot then, if you hit it the wrong way, your feet get sweaty and it’s not irritating your foot. And you’re going to develop a blister. Or say you’re wearing the back heel of the sock—there’s a little pocket in there. It’s there for a reason: So your foot doesn’t slide around. If there’s laxity in that little socket in the back of your shoe and your shoe is tied too loose, you’re going to get a blister! It sounds so stupid but it actually was relevant.
That’s amazing. I feel like he’d be a great Middle Aged Man life coach. I need a hologram of Tom Coughlin in my room: “You’re washed up but here’s how you’ll get through the day without any injuries.”
Barber: All the little things, you’ll do right. Now, you might not do the big things good enough. All the little things, you’re going to do right.
You two had a lot of meetings. I remember you calling him out after a Jacksonville game (in ‘06) when you barely got the ball — and you were right.
Barber: It wasn’t even him. I wasn’t talking about him. I was talking about our offensive coordinator, Coach “Huff.” (John Hufnagel) I loved Huff. We just had trouble communicating with him because he was deaf in one of his ears. So the things that we would try to translate, they just wouldn’t register. So that Jacksonville game, we threw the ball like 40-something times. We had had like 10 carries. And at the time, we were one of the top rushing teams in football. What the hell are we doing? We know what we’re good at. Why are we not doing that? Coach Coughlin had to reassign Coach Hufnagel and Kevin Gilbride took over as the offensive coordinator and helped them with two championships. So it worked out. It was what the team wanted, and nobody would say it. So, I said it.
So many iconic plays and games. But a couple days after Wellington Mara passes, you go for 200.
Barber: The details of that game are the only ones I remember fully. A lot of games, I know I had a play or two. The only one I fully remember from start to finish — what the morning was like, what the locker room was like, the national anthem, Katie Mara sang it, what the fan emotion was like — I remember that one from start to finish and I’ll never forget it because of how it all went down. Obviously, it’s because we were playing our rival: the then-Redskins. That week was so emotional with him passing away on a Tuesday and then being laid to rest on a Friday. John Mara gave this amazing eulogy at his service in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We all went as a team. We took the buses and went out. We came back and we practiced. I felt empty to be honest with you for a lot of that week because I was there on Tuesday right before he passed. That was our off day. They knew and the Mara family asked me to come visit. And Shockey was the other player that they asked to come out. He was Wellington’s favorite player. I got to say “goodbye” to him. Most of the other players didn’t. Maybe they didn’t have the relationship I did with the Mara family and Wellington but I had the chance to say goodbye to him and I’ll never, ever, ever forget that. And that Sunday comes around and it’s the perfect day. It was gorgeous. A gorgeous day. The first play of the game, we split it. Perfectly. Part of it was Sean Taylor took a stupid angle to try to cut off the edge. But I ran underneath the block and it opened up the sideline for me. I busted it out and got caught because I’m old at this point. That happened a couple times. I finally scored a touchdown. I gave the ball to Timmy McDonnell, his grandson, who’s a close friend and still a close friend. He was one of our ball boys. I said, “This is for you and your family and your grandfather. Thank you for making me a Giant.” And I took myself out of that game. That was my 206th yard. The touchdown. It’s one I’ll never forget.
How do you process your emotions? You’re in the room. You’re with the family. You’re saying goodbye. You could be a total emotional wreck and unable to play.
Barber: We knew at the beginning of the season that both of our owners were sick. Wellington had melanoma and he had been in and out of the hospital. Bob Tisch, our other owner, had a brain tumor. I know he had traveled multiple times down to North Carolina. I think he was going to Duke, trying to find a cure. I had an even closer relationship with Bob Tisch than I did with Wellington because Bob lived in the city and I lived on the upper east side. He lived in the Regency on Park Avenue. So, I’d do a lot of things with him. I’d go to dinner with him. He had a jazz club, Feinstein’s, in the Regency. We’d go to political events together. I spent a lot of time with Bob. And we knew at the beginning of the season that they were both sick. Tom Coughlin told us, “We are the team of record.” Maybe some guys didn’t know what that meant. He said, “We are the team of record for both of our owners.” I took that to heart. It’s not an accident that I had 1,800 yards that year rushing and 500-something receiving. I rushed for 200 yards three times. That season meant more to me than any football season in the history of my life because of what those two men — Wellington and Bob — meant to me. I wasn’t taking it lightly. And to be honest with you, I almost retired after that year. Because something was gone. There was a connection that I didn’t feel. I’m close to John and Steve Tisch but it’s not near the type of relationship I had with their fathers. It felt like it was time for me to leave. I stayed another year. That fifth game, I was like, “Dude, I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.” But ’05 was special for me.
When the ball was in your hands, what made Tiki Barber different than any other back?
Barber: I knew I was smarter than everybody else. I knew that I was working harder. I knew I was studying things that you weren’t studying, that the defense wasn’t studying. I knew what you were trying to do to me. So, I could take advantage of it. At that point, I wasn’t fast. I was strong. But I wasn’t Brandon Jacobs powerful. I was a slasher. What was my running style? I would slash. So, I’d set you up and then I’d cut across your face. Even if you thought you had me dead to rights, I knew you weren’t making an arm tackle. I’d run through the arm tackle. As I got older, I just got really smart and patient and I understood what those five guys in front of me were trying to do on every single play. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I think he’s supposed to go here. I’m going to try to find the hole.” I knew exactly where it was supposed to open. Those guys up front? They were so smart. They don’t get enough credit. Maybe (Shaun) O’Hara does because he’s in media now and they talk about him. But Kareem McKenzie and (Chris) Snee and (Rich) Seubert and David Diehl. Even Luke Petitgout, who was there as well. They don’t get enough credit for how smart they were as an offensive line. They were all really good athletes but they were smart. They didn’t f--k up. They didn’t screw up. The reason I had the success I had was because of those guys. You know that that’s true because the next year — after I retired, after the ’06 season — the ’07 season had almost the exact same number of rushing yards. It was three guys: Brandon and Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw — “Earth, Wind and Fire.” That O-Line was phenomenal. So I reaped the benefits of a great cohesion with those five guys in front of me.
And then you enter your post-NFL life. You had options. I want to say Fox had a big offer of four years, $3.3 million per year. And there was NBC.
Barber: Fox was exciting to think about. But at that time, I had very young kids. A.J. was five. Chason was three. I didn’t want to be on the west coast every weekend doing Fox. I didn’t want to travel every weekend with young kids at home. And “The Today Show” is The Today Show. It’s the greatest morning television show maybe in the history of morning television shows. I had an opportunity to work for them—and not just for “Football Night in America,” which was nascent and new. It didn’t work out there because they didn’t have an idea of what they wanted. There were three of us: me, Jerome Bettis and Cris Collinsworth all in this little room and, collectively, we could talk for three minutes. There wasn’t enough air time for all of us. But I did some great stories for The Today Show. I did some things that I wouldn’t have thought about, including shark diving in South Africa or visiting a shanty town or visiting all of the ball parks in Major League Baseball. Things that I had a passion for but didn’t know I did until I actually did it.
When you were able to talk sports, I loved the honesty. It was refreshing. It might get you into the crosshairs from time to time.
Barber: But you have to. You have to speak the truth.
People want you to be real.
Barber: It’s changed now. Former athletes used to never criticize anybody. Ever, ever. Now they do it all the time. You look at Charles Barkley, hell, he’s in trouble with every current athlete in the NBA. But at the time, saying something that was an opinion, which is what you’re hired to do felt unpopular. It felt like you were betraying something. I just tell it like it is. Not with malice. But just facts. I speak very factually. If you listen to my radio show, that’s how I am. I have fun. I don’t take myself seriously. I don’t necessarily have to be right. But I’m going to tell you the facts as I see them.
That’s one good thing going right now in sports media. You can be yourself and build an audience. Anybody can build anything — that’s what I’m trying to do here in the independent world — but in the New York radio world people love listening to you because they know you’re not going to feed them chum. So if you were to say today (as you did in 2007) that Eli Manning gave “comical” speeches, we probably laugh with you.
Barber: Now, you know Eli. Now, people know what I’m talking about. He had this persona of “I’m not going to say anything.” But he was funny as hell, and he was awesome. So when I talked about him leading in this “comical” way, the only thing you hear was he’s “comical.” That’s not what I was talking about. I was talking about him being relatable. He’s a Manning for Christ’s sake. He’s NFL royalty. You expect him to be this buttoned-up whatever. But now, removed from that, you see first how Peyton is. You see how Cooper is now. And Eli’s the third one. They’re all the same. They have these amazing senses of humor that, until you see it and know it, you think they’re the “The Mannings.” They’re just people and they like to have fun.
And he leans into that “dorky” persona now, to the extreme. What kind of stuff was he doing behind the scenes that was hilarious?
Barber: The funniest story ever, we used to ball up our tape — you tape your ankle, tape your wrist — and you’d ball it up and we all think we’re basketball players. We’d shoot them at these massive trash cans in the corners. We’d do this but you had to look around. Because if you didn’t, your shit was getting smacked right back in your grill. There’s nobody watching, so it doesn’t matter. But it’s funny. One day, I think Eli was a rookie. It was ’04. He had just started playing. I’m looking around, I shoot this shot and Eli comes flying — he’s butt naked — comes flying and knocks it out. I’m like, “What the f--k are you doing?” That was him. It was out of nowhere. It was out of character for him, at least in my mind. Guys love him. Because he’s real, he's funny and he performed. He knew how to get better every year. It wasn’t a surprise that he won two Super Bowls and — when it mattered most — made the most important plays in recent Giants history.
And, now, people are appreciating your place in team history. They love hearing you talk about the team. Time heals. But was it weird at the Ring of Honor, you’re introduced, and fans are booing you? It’s not like you were arrested.
Barber: I understand it because that’s the emotion of Giants fans. But media wasn’t the same then. The story couldn’t be told except by the people who wrote it at The Post or The Daily News or the New York Times. So the only way the story was told or explained was by a third party. So, my side, which I never really cared to tell people about—I knew in time it’d work itself out and, more importantly, I knew in real time that Eli and I weren’t in a bad spot. It was presented as “Tiki vs. Eli. They hate each other.” No, we don’t. But how do you tell that story? You can’t. I was at a tournament this past weekend for Derek Jeter and it’s the 10th anniversary of The Players’ Tribune. They were talking about it and the only thing I was mad about was I should’ve thought of this. Giving voice to the athlete in their own way, to tell their story or tell whatever they want to get out. That came around in 2013. In 2006 or ’07, you were subject to whoever was going to tell the story and it wasn’t you. Now, you can tell your own story and it changes the landscape in so many ways. Athletes are very intelligent. And even if they’re not book smart, there’s a savvy you have. An understanding a lot of us have that lets you communicate your story the right way instead of having to go through a third party.
You were in a darker time then. You even tried to come back and play football four years after retiring.
Barber: Yeah, four years after that. Right before the lockout. It was dark because I was going through a divorce. I wasn’t doing anything. I wasn’t working really. I had a previous relationship with Stephen Ross through a business venture and he was like, “Yeah, come try out.” I got back in shape and started working with Joe Carini again. I was strong and felt great. And then the lockout happened. I went on a visit to Miami. I worked out. I thought it went well. And, all of a sudden, they can’t talk to me anymore because the players are locked out. It fizzled before it ever got started. But, honestly, it was a blessing in disguise. A couple of things happened not too soon after that. One, I started my own company called Thuzio. It’s still around. We just got acquired 18 months ago by Triller. I also started on CBS Sports Network, a brand-new national network, to cover the couple hundred affiliated CBS Sports Radio stations around the country. Now, we’ve subsequently been bought by Audacy. But it led to the stepping stone that become my most-recent tenure at WFAN. I think I could’ve done it. I really do. But I think, ultimately, I would have not enjoyed it. I’m almost glad that I didn’t make it back because the things I got involved with were much better for my health and much better for my professional career.
If we were to look at all the retired athletes in the sport, you’d be at the top of the list in terms of “Tiki Barber is going to retire and be happy for the rest of your life.” But even you worked through personal stuff. You’ve been open about it. Depression. Down, out. The Today Show didn’t work out. How did you hit that brick wall and get back up?
Barber: The biggest one — and I alluded to this earlier — was my father. And obviously, my brother and family and friends were always there. But when I sat down and was a little bit lost, and then I got remarried to Traci, who is amazing, she reached out to my father. We knew we were going to have kids and she wanted our kids to know all of their grandparents while they were still alive. Fortunately for her and me, both of our Mom and Dad are still alive. She wanted my kids to meet their grandparents. So, she reached out to my Dad unbeknownst to me. I didn’t know. Two months later, she told me: “You’re going to be upset with me.” I’m like, “Why? What did you do?” She said, “Your Dad’s coming to visit.” I haven’t talked to him in 15 years. I don’t know. It had been forever. The last time I talked to him — and it was for a second — was a Cowboy game my second year in the league. So, I had never spent any real time with him since I was in seventh grade. Now, all of a sudden, he’s coming from Oklahoma.
What’s going through your head? At that point?
Barber: I was very curious. I’m a naturally curious person. I knew it wouldn’t be anger. I was just curious because I don’t know him. He’s my father. And he was a star at Virginia Tech. He was roommates with Bruce Arians. He was the man back in the day, and then things got in the way and his life went adrift and he was lost a little bit. He got saved by an Indian. A Christian Indian. Her name is Addie. She’s still his wife. She took him back to church. They eventually settled in Oklahoma because they went to Oral Roberts. Now he’s the dean of practical theology and the head of field study out there. I would get these random notes from people: “Oh, your father is amazing! He taught me so much about life and my walk with God.” I’m like, “I have no idea who you’re talking about. Until I did.” And then he came. I happened to have all of the kids that weekend: Atiim, Chason, Ella and Riley. We walk in the door and my Dad is sitting at the counter with my wife having a glass of wine. I was like, “Alright, this is going to be fun.” Two hours or three hours later, over a couple of bottles of wine, I heard the story. I felt like, “My Dad’s still a hippie.” But it was awesome. We developed this unbelievable bond that was gone. When he left, I got a letter from my half-sister, Christa, who’s a D.A. She’s an ass-kicker, man. She’s awesome. It made me cry. She had this note, basically saying — she’s 35, I think now, or 36 — and she said, “I’ve wanted to send you this note since I was 16. Because I always wanted an older brother. My Dad always told us, ‘Don’t worry. Eventually Tiki and Ronde will be in your life.’” He always said that to her. And she wrote me this heartfelt note. I don’t know. It moved me. I not only gained my father back in my life, but also a half-brother and a half-sister who I’ve gotten close with over the last few years. You get out of tough times by falling back on what’s important. And that’s family.
That’s unbelievable. You never hear those happy endings in situations like this. You were in seventh grade?
Barber: No, no. He left our lives when we were babies. They were divorced when we were two. But he came back when we were in seventh grade. He came to a wrestling match. We were wrestling. He was there. We didn’t know who he was. We were introduced. We spent some time with him. Then, he was gone. And we didn’t see him again, until right when we were going to leave college. He came to my last football game in college against Virginia Tech. The last regular season football game, against Virginia Tech, his alma mater. We said a quick “hello,” but I didn’t have anything to say to him. So, it was like, “I’ve got to get on the bus. See ya later.” Then, I saw him once in the NFL a couple years after that and that was it. It’s interesting because the history doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t matter. The history doesn’t matter. What matters is now and who he is now and what his life is now. Not what it was when I didn’t know him.
So you weren’t filled with rage and “Why!?” and questioning him and pressing him and interrogating him?
Barber: When I was younger, I was. Only because I saw how much my Mom struggled. I don’t think I realized it — until I look back on it in retrospect — how hard it was on my Mom that he wasn’t there. But my Mom never made excuses, never made any judgments against him or said negative things about him even though she could have. She didn’t. So, it kept my interpretation of him clean. I had no biases toward him. Regardless of what led him out of our lives. I see that as a very important lesson. So often, we get influenced by the opinions of other people instead of making judgments on our own. I have my Mom to thank for that. Because of her not forcing a prejudice in my mind about my father, I have a great relationship with my father.
What a life lesson. Years later, you’re at peace.
Barber: It’s never too late. It never is.
And you keep in touch?
Barber: Oh yeah. You know how we ended up really communicating after that meeting? Through “Words with Friends.” We played “Words with Friends” against each other and would chat in that little chat on there. I’ve been out there. I go out every five or six months. I end up being in Oklahoma and we see him. Or he’ll come here. He and Addy, his wife, they came about five months ago. So, we see each other about twice a year. Which is great.
Indian, as in Native American or India?
Barber: India. But she’s Christian. There’s a lot of Christian Indians, not Hindu. Hindu’s the predominant language but there are some Christians. Because it was a British colony back in the colonized days. So Christianity is not huge in India, but it is there.
The Giants. This year. We hear you breaking the team down, but you saved your best stuff for Go Long. Brian Daboll, Joe Schoen, Daniel Jones, we’re on-board here. They cleansed the building. You’ve got competent, qualified people running the show and making good decisions. You know the organization from the top-down as well as anyone. Where is this team going?
Barber: They’re still building. As the season goes, I’ll have to come back on and we’ll get a real evaluation of this. But they’ve made the right decisions to get the right kind of people into the organization. I know people are clamoring about the Daniel Jones contract. As I say when we talk about Francisco Lindor, or whoever has a huge contract, it’s just money. What matters more is the leadership guys like Daniel Jones will bring. He’s the hardest worker. He’s one of the smartest kids you’ll ever be around. He’s durable. At least last year, he was durable. And he’s dynamic. So I think they’ll go as far as he grows. Another year in Mike Kafka and Brian Daboll’s system, you can’t help but be excited. Now, it’s going to be hard. Dallas is supposed to be good. The Eagles are obviously the defending NFC champs. And Washington, if they ever figure out their quarterback situation, they have a hell of a defense. Coaching matters. And I know this because I have kids who do competitive cheer. I watched them compete against other teams that don’t have as good of coaching. You see it. You see it when you watch the Giants. Coaching matters. That’s why he was Coach of the Year.
And to keep a good thing going, you can’t put a price on a full offseason. Year 2 in the system.
Barber: And it’s really just a two-year deal. People are up in arms. It’s a two-year deal. The only thing that matters is the guaranteed money. That’s truly the only thing that matters in the NFL. After that? You’re expendable. Period.
Fans love you now out on the town? All love, all these years later? And how should people remember Tiki Barber?
Barber: I have evolved into one of the most trusted voice on one of the most powerful radio stations in New York and, really, the country. Honestly, that’s what people talk to me about. It’s not about my career anymore. It’s about my opinion on the Yankees and what I feel Cashman is doing. The Mets with these young bats they’ve started to bring up. It’s always about my show now because that’s how I’m publicly perceived. It’s not as a football player.
We’re a generation later, really.
Barber: You’re exactly right. Literally. Someone who was born when I retired is 16 right now. It’s a different world. We’re not talking about Tiki, the football player. We’re talking about Tiki, the opinion-maker on WFAN.