Tiki Barber had it all figured out.
The New York Giants running back stepped away from the NFL in 2007 at the peak of his football career to pursue a role in broadcasting. Despite critics who questioned why Barber would leave $8.3 million on the table and retire after three straight seasons of at least 2,000 combined rushing and receiving yards, the move made sense on paper.
Barber was approaching 32 years of age. History has proven that running backs start to decline in production once they hit 30. Thanks to Barber announcing his retirement plans during the 2006 season, networks were lining up to sign the future broadcaster and made his transition from the gridiron to in front of a microphone seamless. Immediately following his retirement, Barber landed a role as a correspondent for NBC’s Today and Football Night In America.
What could possibly go wrong?
Enter Traci Lynn Johnson.
The 23-year-old blonde was an intern at NBC and caught the eye of Barber, who was happily married to his college sweetheart, Ginny. The couple had two children together and two more on the way when Barber left his 8-months-pregnant wife for Johnson last April.
It would mark the beginning of a hellacious three months for Barber, who not only saw his personal life spiral out of his control but his career as well. Prior to his divorce, Barber was notified his contract wasn’t going to be renewed at Football Night In America. But once Barber became “Page Six” fodder, NBC quietly pulled the plug from his contract, citing he had violated the morality clause.
With his $300,000 NBC salary gone, Barber was reportedly so broke that he couldn’t afford a divorce settlement.
Fast forward to Tuesday when Barber’s agent, Mark Lepselter, announced the 35-year-old had filed papers with the league office to come out of retirement and attempt to revive his football career.
“After seeing my brother still have fun at our age, it reignited the fire. I’m really looking forward to the challenge of seeing if I can get back to the level of where I was,” Barber told FOXSports.com exclusively. “I started working out again recently. It kind of shocked myself. I still had a lot of the strength I had before. I’m really looking forward to making a return.”
In case you don’t speak B.S., let me translate for you: “I’m coming back to the NFL because my ex-wife is going to clean me out in court and I’m broke. Broke, I tell you. B-R-O-K-E.”
Now that we’ve cleared that up, Barber, who turns 36 in April, is facing an uphill battle. Unlike the 41-year-old Brett Favre, who returned to the sport on multiple occasions, Barber doesn’t want to play football again because he loves the game. He’s coming back for the love of a check. It was Favre’s passion for the sport he loved that gave him the energy to pick himself up off the ground after every bone crushing sack. Money won’t be enough motivation to even get Barber through the vicious two-a-practices in the sweltering August heat.
While the four years away from football should rejuvenate Barber, it’s also a double-edged sword.
How much of a beating will Barber be able to withstand?
Only three running backs over the age of 30 rushed for more than 673 yards during the 2010 season, led by LaDainian Tomlinson of the New York Jets.
According to his trainer Joe Carini, Barber weighs 198 pounds — 10 pounds off his playing weight. You’re going to be hard pressed to find a team that’s wiling to take a risk on an aging Barber other than as a third-down back.
Plus, there’s no guarantee we will have football in 2011 as the NFL owners and players union are trying to avoid a work stoppage. If there is a season, the one team that wants no part of Barber’s comeback are the Giants, who announced they would release him from the team when a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
Barber managed to torch his legacy in New York after separate attacks of quarterback Eli Manning and head coach Tom Coughlin. Barber took a shot at his former quarterback prior to the 2007 season, questioning his leadership abilities. Ironically enough, Manning would go on that season to lead the Giants to an upset victory over the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
The final straw for Barber was last October when he claimed Coughlin was “in a crisis” after the Giants started the season 1-2.
Three days later, Barber was booed at New Meadowlands Stadium during the inaugural “Ring Of Honor” ceremony at halftime during of the Giants-Chicago Bears game. According to ex-teammate Antonio Pierce, wherever Barber ends up, he won’t bring any leadership to the locker room.
“Tiki Barber, the football player, great player, will be very productive probably in certain situations, third-down, maybe can help out a young quarterback, some young running backs, depending on who it is,” Pierce said on NFL Live. “Tiki Barber, the leader, the person in that locker room? He is not going to do anything for your team.”
Barber’s pending comeback is another lesson for every young athlete hoping to strike it rich in professional sports.
No matter how many millions you have in the bank, all it takes is one failed marriage and poor money management before reality tackles you in the backfield.