Posted: Monday October 23, 2006 10:56AM; Updated: Tuesday October 24, 2006 2:03AM
Tiki Barber is more comfortable in front of the television cameras than almost any other NFL player.
Peter King will answer your questions each week in Monday Morning Quarterback: Tuesday Edition.
Shocking! An athlete who cares about the world a little bit. The most common reaction about Barber's announcement is this: "How can a guy making such great money even think about retiring when he's at the peak of his game?''
Maybe the better question is: How could Tiki Barber think of not retiring after the season, while he's still in one piece and with everything else he has going for him?
This is not Barry Sanders retiring in 1999 because he was weary of the game and didn't want to play for the Lions anymore. This is more like Jim Brown, who walked away in 1965 to make movies and to try to do some good in the world. Barber has had enough of the regimentation and the silly rules (reporting at 8:23 for an 8:30 meeting because you have to be early with the Giants to be on time) and, quite frankly, the physical pain. He told a story of getting hit so hard and so often by personal nemesis Jeremiah Trotter in Week 2 that "I couldn't lift my head off the pillow till Friday after that game.''
I've always thought it was amazing that athletes will endure such pain to play when they've got good money socked away. Barber's not Michael Jordan rich, but he's probably made $30 million in his 10 NFL seasons. He lives on Manhattan's East Side in an upscale building with his wife, Ginny, and two boys, and he bought the apartment next door so her parents could move in and be close to them. So he's not living like a pauper. Let's say he's got a $10 million nest egg, though I'm sure that's conservative.
If you've got a brain in your head and you have options off the field, why wouldn't it be a preferred option to walk away so you don't have to -- as Barber does now -- spend seven to nine hours a week getting various treatments, massages and acupuncture to Scotch-tape your body back together for another week of getting the crap beat out of you?
Barber is due to make $4.25 million in each of the next two non-guaranteed years of his contract. Then the contract expires. That's $8.5 million over the next two years. My guess is he'll be doing some hybrid TV/radio news/sports job, with some lucrative speaking engagements thrown in. He can probably make $4 million over the next two years, half of what he could have made in the NFL.
"You know what that tells me?'' Jerome Bettis said Sunday in our NBC bunker here. "He really wanted to go if he's leaving that much money on the table.''
Barber's true value
One more point. Not many people will buy this, but Barber's been the best back in football over the last few years. Sit on the barstool next to me and let's argue that one, if you can.
The proof is in this chart, detailing rushing, receiving and yards from scrimmage since 2004. Among all running backs in the NFL, Barber is first, first and first in those categories over the last 2½ years ... without a single Pro Bowler on his offensive line in any of those seasons.
Stacking up the top RBs
Yards from Scrimmage (Total-Per Game)
Bill Parcells thinks so much of Barber that he told his own stalwart runner, Julius Jones, to study Barber's 185-yard performance against Atlanta last week. "That game especially had some good learning on it,'' Parcells said. "I wanted him to see how patient Barber is and how he uses his blockers. This guy can get through small cracks. Last week he must have broken 10 to 12 plays straight to the secondary untouched. If that happens this week, we're going to get beat.
"Tremendous player," Parcells added. "Probably the best player in the division. Maybe. I don't know. He is up there in the top four or five in the league, as far as I am concerned. If you ask across the league to start naming top running backs, there are some other names that are going to come up, but this guy should be at the top of the list in my opinion. He is a complete player; he can catch and he is a threat in the passing game. The main thing is he stays out there."
Not for much longer, though. Only about 11 more games, plus the playoffs. Then Barber turns into the interviewer, not the interviewee.