I was browsing the channels yesterday and stumbled upon a commercial for NBC’s Fourth Of July Fireworks Spectacular. As a resident of Boston, I do not have much interest in staying in and watching a televised party. Wouldn’t make sense to, what with the Pops playing while barges on the Charles River launch fireworks for all of Eastern Massachusetts to see. However, my interest was immediately piqued when I saw who was hosting – the not unattractive Natalie Morales, and the New York Giants’ all time leading rusher, Tiki Barber.
“Whoa,” I actually said out loud. “Good for Tiki.”
Tiki Barber is 32 years old and, if he was still playing, would be entering the phase of his career where commentators begin using phrases like “timeless,” “elder statesman” or “lot of miles on those legs” during the pre-game shows. Every hit he sustained would give the analysts pause for a half-second longer, to see if the aging running back got gained his last yards. Retirement questions would begin to pile up, and we’d get to hear Tiki answer them every week in front of the relentless New York media.
But Tiki Barber is not still playing. Tiki Barber walked away from the game with his health in tact and a still youthful grin on his face. I’m not going to say he retired. He walked away (and not limped) from his sports career and is now doing very well in his broadcasting career. He’s now a panelist on The Today Show and will be contributing to Sunday Night Football. Add that to his radio show hosting, children’s book writing and business investment ventures and the man has cobbled together a heck of a professional life after his first career ended.
We as fans assume that a player’s first love is his sport. This is not a particularly bad or (at least 95% of the time) inaccurate assumption to make. But we also believe that a player’s sport is his only love. After all, it’s all we know about them. It’s like seeing someone on the train everyday reading some sort of sci-fi paperback. The whole of your knowledge about that person consists of “Oh, she really likes sci-fi.” Similarly, all we know about, say, Jon Kitna is that he likes football… and head shaving. If we saw our science fiction train-friend or Jon Kitna in a chess practice group, we’d think that’d be a little odd. Since they’re so far outside of the narrow comfort zone we assume they have.
Tiki has always made it clear that he had a plan in place after ending his playing career. So all of this shouldn’t be coming as a big shock to us. Guys that smart (valedictorian in high school, M.I.S. degree from UVa) generally have their act together. It’s just that we’re not usually introduced to guys this smart, with such a diverse and intriguing set of interests, playing a decade of professional football.
I don’t expect this kind of thing will become a trend. Most successful football and baseball players that don’t get the coaching bug are offered some sort of media deal. But they’re usually pigeon-holed to being a small market color guy or part-time analyst for the sport they played. Tiki is a special case. He’s a very intelligent, very articulate man with a penchant for discourse that just so happened to get famous for his ability to carry the rock. I hope he calls a good fireworks show. I’ll be rooting for this guy for the rest of his professional life.