"It sure made
them fun to coach," says Steve Spangler, their middle school and high
school football coach at Cave Spring High in Roanoke. "If there was a
problem--say, Tiki was fumbling--you didn't have to say anything to Tiki,
because Ronde took care of it. They are each other's conscience."
In a hotel room
in Jacksonville, Tiki Barber sits in a lounge chair watching San Diego fall
behind against Denver 24--7 and then mount a comeback to win 35--27, in part by
keeping the ball in the hands of running back LaDainian Tomlinson. "You
see, you don't go away from the running game just because you fall behind,"
he says. "They stuck with the running game, and look what happened. LT
brought them back.
armchair quarterbacks just like any fan," he says of NFL players. "You
do it watching your own team, too. It's just that we shouldn't go outside the
team with it. Once you cross that line, you're not accomplishing anything. It's
not going to change anything. But in the long run it really doesn't mean
anything when you say things to the media--the only thing that matters is in
the locker room."
And he says no
one in the locker room questioned his decision to retire. Coughlin says he
doesn't "even want to think about life after Tiki."
Since the story
of his retirement broke, Barber has turned his focus even more to preparing for
his postfootball career. Earlier this day in Jacksonville, Lepselter met with
ABC and ESPN executives about Barber's possibly joining Good Morning America
and 20/20, a meeting that, Lepselter said, "exceeded my expectations. Tiki
is mentally moving on. He is really eager to get to the next phase of his
It is a tribute
to Barber's professionalism and talent that he is playing well despite what he
admits is a decrease in intensity. "Quite honestly," he says, "I
don't have the passion to do it anymore. I'll sit in meetings and I'm bored, or
my mind is drifting or I'll go out on Sunday on the football field and the
blood isn't flowing like it used to. It's imperceptible because I'll still go
out and have 185 yards or 140 against the Chicago Bears, the best defense in
the league. It doesn't look like it, but inside of me I know."
Finn, the Giants
fullback, agrees: "He is so talented that he can still perform at a high
level without the passion."
in his chair and checking his cellphone for text messages, says there is no way
he will change his mind and play next year. "Running back for the New York
Giants is just a character I'm playing," he says. "It was a character
before me, and someone will play the character after me, just like Superman or
Batman. Michael Keaton played Batman very differently from Christian Bale, but
it's the same character. When I leave, I leave that role behind.
"For so many
players," he goes on, "for so long in your life, you are told you are
the best thing since sliced bread, you do a great job, people are saying, 'Can
I take you to dinner, can I do this for you?' and, literally, the day you
retire, that ends, because someone is in your place, is playing that character.
You're not that guy anymore, and this person you've defined yourself as for so
long is not there anymore, and so this cool pose that you've been in for so
long is gone. Well, when I retire, I'll just be jumping into a different
that be?" he is asked.