After an introspective, and at times poignant appearance on HBO's Real Sports Tuesday night, the Tiki Barber Comeback Tour marches on. Next stop: Mike Francesa's radio show.
Barber announced in March that he was un-retiring from the NFL after a four-year layoff, citing money and depression as factors. Not surprisingly, his Wednesday chat with Francesa was at times contentious, especially when the conversation turned to Barber's broadcast career.
- Francesa: “The guys at NBC, and I know all of them, they felt that you did a bad job and they said that they thought you were entitled. I mean, they were not complimentary about your work. Let’s not run away from that, this is part of the story.”
- Barber: “If you tell me who it was and you get that person on air, I will have a debate with them. I think that’s cowardly of someone to talk behind someone’s back and not tell them, because the truth of the matter is, I don’t know what I could have done better at NBC.”
“I respect you because I think you have a great knowledge about sports and about the game of football. Do you always do it the correct way? I’m not sure. Do you interview people the correct way, because we’re talking about my life here. I’m not so sure.”
“Mike, I understand what you’re saying. You’re not wrong but you’re also not right. Because to characterize the three years that I had at NBC as abject failure is just wrong. It’s just not correct.”
It's also interesting that Barber thinks its "cowardly of someone to talk behind someone’s back" since, you know, that's sort of what he did during his first season with NBC when he questioned the leadership skills of Giants QB Eli Manning. Of course, Manning no doubt enjoyed the schadenfreude of Barber having to admit in a sit-down interview more than a year later that he was "clearly proven wrong."
Barber contends that his tenure at NBC wasn't an "abject failure." Francesa disagreed, as did Barber's agent, Mark Lepselter. At least in the sense that he knew early on that Barber's television career could be in trouble. In April, ESPNNewYork.com's Ian O'Connor wrote that "Lepselter … didn't like the early vibe he was getting from his client's first months as a broadcaster." Lepselter said that he was "pushing hard" for Barber to sign with the Bucs in 2007 "because I already knew things weren't going in the right direction for Tiki (on television)."
But those are just footnotes to the bigger story that Barber's failures at NBC, along with personal struggles, led him to this point. The chances that he makes an NFL roster are slim. Being closer to 40 than 30 doesn't help, nor does the perception that he's pompous, selfish and not much of a locker room presence.
People love comeback stories, especially in sports. And, in general, fans are a forgiving bunch. It just helps that if the person seeking redemption doesn't confuse hubris for humility.
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