Posted: Monday June 20, 2011 1:44AM ; Updated: Monday June 20, 2011 10:11AM
Peter King
Peter King>MONDAY MORNING QB

MMQB (cont.)

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Tiki Barber hopes to return to the NFL this fall after walking away from the game in 2007.
Tiki Barber hopes to return to the NFL this fall after walking away from the game in 2007.
Clay Patrick McBride/SI

Tiki unplugged, and why he might be Steeler-bound.

My educated guess, and maybe a little more than that, is Pittsburgh will be Tiki Barber's landing spot this summer when he tries to return to football after four seasons away.

The Steelers have a head coach the Barber family knows well -- Mike Tomlin is close to twin Ronde Barber after coaching him in Tampa from 2001 to 2005 and also knows Tiki. Tomlin wouldn't be afraid of the sideshow Tiki Barber might create, nor would he be shy about pulling the plug if the 36-year-old back couldn't beat out the likes of Mewelde Moore.

The Steelers have a core of veteran stars; Tiki Barber would fit right in. The Steelers have a good back, Rashard Mendenhall, but no back-of-the-future type who Barber would be robbing playing time from. And one NFL source tells me Barber really wants a shot to play in Pittsburgh. I'm also told that wherever he goes, Barber won't be content to be a mopup guy or insurance policy; he wants to play a lot. We'll see where he ends up this summer, if and when football happens, but Pittsburgh's my guess.

More Tiki: Following up on Sports Illustrated's excellent Tiki Barber profile by L. Jon Wertheim comes a revealing interview Tuesday night on HBO's Real Sports by Armen Keteyian. "It's a story about [Tiki's] road to redemption, trying to make himself whole again,'' Keteyian said. "There was a richness, an honesty in the interview that I found riveting.'' The most interesting thing, according to Keteyian, was that after Barber's colossal failed marriage, taking up with a 23-year-old NBC intern, and getting dumped by NBC: "There was almost a level of self-destruction here -- he wanted to blow up this life he created and start over.''

The interview's good. I watched a review copy Sunday.

When I left football for TV, Barber told Keteyian, "People were trying to dictate what I should do with my life. And who I should be. 'You should be a football player.' 'I would cut off my left nut to do what you do. How dare you walk away from it?'

"I'll tell you how I dare, because I don't want to do it anymore," Barber added. "I don't have the passion to do it anymore. And so I walked away from it. And it rubbed people the wrong way."

That jibes with what I saw in the two years Barber was in the NBC studio -- I never once heard him say he missed football or would ever entertain the thought of playing again.

He says in the story he didn't begin training until February for another shot at the NFL, and now he's working with his old strength and conditioning man, Joe Carimi, in New Jersey. He says he feels he's on a mission of redemption. The team that will give him a chance? We'll see.

"There are a lot of coaches who I both have played against and played for who I think know what I'm about,'' Barber tells Keteyian. "And that gives me the belief that this opportunity is real. And not only am I going to be on a team, I'm going to be a big part of a team."

***

You mean we're already talking Super Bowl rotation for L.A.?

Two very good points from Al Michaels, who has lived much of his life in Los Angeles. He sees the NFL putting two teams in Los Angeles in our lifetime -- perhaps an existing franchise moving there, and an expansion team whenever the league wants to add to the 32-team quorum. And he says he "can't imagine'' once a team is playing in the city "that seven or eight Super Bowls in a 25-year period wouldn't be played there.''

"I probably won't be around to see that, and the league would never admit it,'' Michaels told me the other day, "but I feel sure L.A. would be back in the Super Bowl rotation once it gets a team. It's got the glitz, the glamour, the market.''

I called a few Angelinos last week to measure the fervor for the NFL there. "Do people in L.A. really want a team?'' said Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. "That's really the question.''

My question too, though I've been partially assuaged by seeing the LA Live complex downtown (with Staples Center, huge JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels and good restaurants), which is fabulous, and the fact that USC and UCLA draw big crowds at the Coliseum and Rose Bowl, respectively.

"When I hear, 'L.A. people don't care about the NFL,' I think it's ridiculous,'' Michaels said. "When I moved here in 1958, I saw two Rams games at the Coliseum that drew 100,000 [each]. This is an event town. There's something about being at a Lakers game that's almost like a badge of honor. And look, if you've got 15 million people in the region, you can find 75,000 to go to an NFL game eight times a year.''

There's more momentum for a team in Los Angeles than at any time since the league left after the 1994 season. If the city council approves a Memorandum of Understanding with prospective owner AEG by July 31, and if a 30,000-page Environmental Impact Report passes muster with the politicos, there's still one small problem -- a team relocating in time to play when a stadium downtown would open in 2016.

San Diego is the most likely because of its trouble getting a new stadium built. But don't overlook St. Louis. The Rams' lease at the Edward Jones Dome expires after the 2014 season, and if the league doesn't address revenue inequity in a serious way in this round of bargaining, the Rams might be in the discussion. The Los Angeles team would almost surely bolt into the top quartile of teams in revenue, which would be a temptation for any lower-revenue owner.

***

 
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