Tiki's Ready for his Ring

If Disney got its hands on this NFL season, surely an MVP season by the deserving Tiki Barber would be capped off with a Super Bowl title for Barber's boys in blue. Then, number 21 would happily walk off stage left – on his own terms.

Along with Michael Strahan, no two Giants are more deserving of a title than this duo, both of who have all but guaranteed that a pot of gold in Miami would mean an instant end to their careers. Barber, who's still at the top of his game, recently took time out just prior to the start of his 10th season in New York and discussed with TGI his usual wide range of topics.

Q: What are your thoughts on this club heading into the season?

A: I'm excited heading into this year, especially after our second preseason game. We were effective and efficient and with the exception of two questionable holding calls – it's a new interpretation of the rules – all three of our first-team drives against Kansas City were executed perfectly. That's encouraging, especially considering it was our first real action all together on offense and it was like we hadn't missed a beat from last year. That's encouraging.

Q: Exactly how good is this offense?

A: The offense is going to be great. We have tons of talent in our skilled positions. Even in a position that hasn't looked great in the last few years – our third wide receiver – Tim (Carter) has looked great. And Sinorice (Moss) was great before he strained his quad, so we're full. We have a full complement of talent, which is comparable, if not the best in the league. With Eli (Manning) maturing, playing as well as he has and having such command over this offense, it's exciting about what we can do to improve on our fifth overall offensive ranking last year. We left a lot of opportunities out there. Hopefully with another year of experience and continuity on the offensive line – this is the second year in a row with the same group of linemen – it's really exciting about what we can do.

Q: How much better is Eli?

A: He's a ton better. Obviously it's just experience at that position. It's easy to say he's going to be great, but until he actually goes out there and does it, you can't really know. After the first couple games it was obvious that he has the command. We went to a no-huddle offense against the Chiefs and he executed it like the game was on the line. It was kind of like what he was doing all last year. We're excited about it. It gives us a lot of versatility with what we can do on offense.

Q: Is this the best team you've been on?

A: With a doubt, talent-wise this is the best team I've ever been on. Cohesion-wise, this is the best team I've ever been on. We have such personalities – on both sides of the ball. The other day LaVar (Arrington) was talking about when you have personalities like we have – guys that can bring levity but also guys who are dead serious all the time about their job – you can't help but be successful. I think we have a good mix of the right people. LaVar's awesome. He's just fun to be around.

Q: How has Coach been in his third camp with you guys?

A: He's similar. He's always going to be the way he is. He's consistent in his mentality, his approach, his ideals, the way he expects us to behave and react to him. Admittedly, he'll tell you, he's a hardass. But that's what his job is, to run this team. And I think we respect that. Along those same lines, I think he respects us – especially the veterans – and asks our opinions about things when he has concerns. He doesn't make assumptions; he asks us about it. As the head coach and leader of this organization, it's encouraging to know that he trusts us on a level that maybe a couple of years ago when he was new here, he didn't have.

Q: Besides the ring, what more can you accomplish?

A: There's really nothing. I'm not thinking about individual goals anymore. Obviously there are some, but they're not my focus. My focus is how can I help this team win a Super Bowl. If my biggest challenge this year – and I think it is – is being more of a leader and bringing an understanding of what my 10 years have brought me, bringing that to the younger guys that might not understand the full ramifications of every practice and every play, that's what I have to do. Because that's what's going to help me win a Super Bowl.

Q: What kind of things can you do to become more of a leader?

A: I spent a lot of time just talking to the young guys on our team. I remember when I was young no one really taught me what the game was about and the true nature of it. If you can't get it done or comprehend what the coaching staff and team needs you to do, they'll quickly bring in someone else. It's hard because it forces them to mature and they can't really enjoy being a football player, but I think it helps and you realize as you get older that it's not about being fun; it's a job. This is a bottom line business. If you're not helping your team get better, you're making it worse so you had better find a way to make your team better.

Q: If you do win it all, is this it for you?

A: Probably. You never want to put a definite on it, but there's a pretty high likelihood that if we win a Super Bowl then I'll retire. But there's no saying we will. I believe we have all the components in place to do it. And I know we have a short window to do it in. I think we only have within two or three years with this group of players to win a Super Bowl. I'd rather think about doing it this year than doing it the third year. Obviously it's what this organization needs; it's been a while since we won one. Even though we went in 2000, it's been a while since we won one.

Q: Did you ever seriously consider not coming back to play this year?

A: No. There are a lot of things that I've prepared myself for, post-NFL career. A lot of them are matriculating, but I'm not fully ready to take them on. I know that if I had to, I could. If I had had a major injury last year, I would have been happy stepping into that next chapter of my life. But I felt like I had the best season of my career and I want to follow up that with a Super Bowl. I want to give it another shot. If we get real close this year, I'll give it another shot next year. Those things are out there waiting for me and I'm excited to get on to new challenges, whenever they come.

Q: What are those things?

A: There are a lot of things. My brother and I have written three children's books and we're graduating to adolescent. We're under contract to write two for Simon & Schuster. Our third children's book called ‘Teammates' is due out in early October. It's kind of cool because we actually play each other only a couple weeks after that. I have a contract for Fox-News again this year. That relationship or another network television relationship will develop somewhere, I'm sure. I've been working with a buddy of mine on Wall Street. He's in hedge fund balance asset management. He's into all these types of financial vehicles that have always interested me. I'm slowly delving into that as well. There is just a ton of stuff. Who really knows? I have other opportunities as well. I'm involved in a lot of philanthropy. I'm getting more involved in that too. Not to mention being a full-time dad.

Q: Do you hear the critics saying you can't possibly continue at this high level of play?

A: Yes, I do. I ask myself that. I don't think about it. I just go do the best that I can. For the last couple of years, the best that I can do has been heads and heels above what other people have expected of me or thought I could do. I'll just do it again. At some point, I know that the best that I can do is not going to be good enough. Hopefully I'll be done before I ever get to that point. But I'm cognizant of it. I'm aware of my mortality and my future limitations as a player because of my age. To deny that would be asinine. So I kind of embrace it to tell you the truth and take it head on.

Q: How much faith do you have in Brandon Jacobs to succeed you?

A: He's getting there. He's getting to a level where I trust him to be in there not just for short-yardage and goal-line. But to be in there on regular pass protection plays. He understands his role as a blitz pick-up, as a pass protector, but also as a route runner. It's not just running a route. There's a rhyme and a reason for a running back in a pass route. To understand those concepts and understanding the importance of being in a certain place on the field or influencing this guy on the field so someone else can be open is a lot to comprehend. Obviously he was not ready for it last year, admittedly so. But he's starting to make strides in it so I'm starting to feel more comfortable with him. Hopefully I won't have to touch the ball 411 times like I did last year. He can start taking series at a time instead of a play or two at a time. That'll allow me to rest and be fully capable for the entire season.

Q: What was the best thing you did this offseason?

A: I did a lot of cool stuff. I think the most compelling thing I did was having lunch with Secretary of State (Condoleezza) Rice at the State Department. We went to the correspondence dinner with a friend who travels with Secretary Rice. Our friend is a big Giants fan and she knows that Secretary of State Rice is a big football fan, even though she's a Cleveland Browns fan. We all had lunch at the State Department for about two hours. It was awesome. It was a fun day, but I know it was hectic for her. That was when all those generals basically started calling for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's head, calling for him to be fired. She had just come back from a briefing at the White House and then all of a sudden she's going into a meeting with Tiki Barber. It was probably a relief for her to not have to talk about all the crap going on in the world. I asked her if she really wanted to be commissioner of the NFL. She laughed and said ‘I'd love to have that job. I wouldn't have to worry about Iran right now.' It was really cool. It definitely brought some levity to her day. For me it was an awe-inspiring encounter with the most powerful woman in the world.

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