Former NFL star and NBC personality Tiki Barber is still on the media circuit. He co-hosts a daily radio show on CBS Sports, and is once again part of FOX’s NFL coverage. We caught up with Tiki this week to discuss some of his upcoming plans as well as his thoughts on some of the trending topics in college football and New York pro football.
The Spun: This Sunday will be pretty busy for you. Tell us a little about the DraftKings’ Week 1 Kickoff Bash you’re a part of. Thuzio is your [sports media] company, and you guys are partnered up with DraftKings for this, right?
TB: Yeah, it is for a lot of the new initiatives this year. For the sportsbook, which is brand new, obviously iwth legalized gambling in New Jersey, and a few new games that are available on the DraftKings site. The event is at the Pilsener Haus & Biergarten in Hoboken on Sunday. It will be from noon until 8. I’ll be there in the afternoon after the Giants game. Brandon Jacobs will be there, Nick Mangold, and Mike Francesa is going to come by. It will be a fun event, open bar and tons of different games going on.
The Spun: How excited are you to be partnered up with something like this?
TB: Well, it’s fun because its so many people. Over 57 million people play fantasy sports in this country. So to create a live atmosphere to launch some new games and some new initiatives, especially with how important and covered sports gambling has been in the news, it is exciting.
The Spun: Have you been surprised to see the way that fantasy football has grown so much over the years?
TB: Oh yeah. If I think back to when I was playing, people would bring up fantasy sports and we’d be like ‘What are you talking about? Just watch the game.’ But because of how sports are consumed and how the millennial generations is engaged in different ways, I think it’s perfect. In fact, I play it now, because all my colleagues at CBS are younger than me and it’s how they interact with the game. The explosion has been amazing.
The Spun: Before the event this Sunday, you’re going to be calling the Giants-Jaguars game at MetLife for FOX. You’ll be reporting on the sideline and your brother Ronde will be up in the booth. What will that be like for you?
TB: This is going to be fun. We did it last year for Giants-Buccaneers down in Tampa, but I was in the booth with him. This time Ronde and Kenny [Albert} will be in the booth and I’ll be on the sideline doing all the duties of a sideline reporter but also giving on-field analysis. There’s some little bells and and whistles that we’re going to try out this weekend that will be fun. The following weekend I’m doing the Bucs-Eagles game down in Tampa with the same crew.
The Spun: When you look at New York football this year, two of the biggest story lines are the two rookies, Saquon Barkley and Sam Darnold. You’ve been a running back for the Giants and played with a young QB with high expectations in Eli Manning. Given that experience, what have you seen from those guys and are you able to project what you think they can do at the next level?
TB: With Saquon, I’ve met him and had some conversations with him. So, I can get a sense of how he is as a person and as a learner. He’s very curous but he still has a long way to go because physically, he has to catch up and learn to be healthy. Half of your battle as a running back in the league is staying healthy and he’s already dealing with the hamstring injury.
With Sam, only from watching him from afar, I’ve appreciated how he’s been able to handle the pressure and handle the expectations. Jets fans–and I work with one, Brandon Tierney, the co-host on my radio show–he’s dumping Hall of Fame credentials on the kid already. You know he [Darnold] hears that, you know he’s aware of that and he knows people are thinking of him as the savior of this franchise. That’s not easy to do for a 21-year-old kid, and he seems to be handling it well. It reminds me, to your point, of what Eli was like. Eli got thrown to the fire midway through his rookie season in 2004 and it was disastrous, but it didn’t negatively effect him. I see the same characteristics in Sam.
The Spun: What’s the biggest adjustment that a running back has to make on the field as a rookie? What’s the biggest adjustment a rookie quarterback has to make when the games count for real?
TB: The answer is actually the same: the complexities of the defense that comes your way. Hearkening back to my own experience, I didn’t get really good until I understood what defenses were trying to do. Where a safety was and where he was trying to do, where a linebacker was “plussed” or “dogging,” what he was trying to manipulate. Once you understand that, those things will foreshadow how a play is supposed to develop.
The same things can be said for a quarterback. In the preseason, just like college football, they’re basic coverages. You get the [Cover] 2’s and [Cover] 4’s and the zones, but nothing complex. As the season goes on, you get these complex coverages that look like one thing but are actually another. It can cause a ton of mistakes if you’re not prepared for it or if you’re not prepared to play quickly. I think those challenges are the same for a running back and a quarterback.
The Spun: Going in a different direction now, what was it like for you to call your first college football game on the radio last week, FAU at Oklahoma?
TB: It was great. Only because of the atmosphere in Norman. It’s one of those great college experiences. It’s a beautiful campus and the stadium was packed. I thought we were going to get a good game, but by the middle of the third quarter, my play-by-play guy Greg Papa was asking me ‘Who’s the fourth-string quarterback in the game handing off to the sixth-string running back?’ It was unique but it was fun. I think college football is so exciting. Oklahoma has a chance if Kyler Murray can live up to the expectations people have for him.
The Spun: Another major topic in college football–and I know one that you and Brandon spoke about this week–is Jim Harbaugh. You played with some Michigan guys like Tyrone Wheatley and Amani Toomer. You played against Michigan in college. You understand what the expectations are like there. What do you think of Harbaugh and some of the criticism he’s facing? What’s your opinion on him.
TB: I’ve always excused him, because I’ve said he’s ahead of schedule in Year 1 and Year 2. You know, no one expected him to win 10 games in his first year. And you looked at his quarterbacks [Speight and O’Korn] and said once he gets his guy, then we’ll see the Jim Harbaugh that excelled at Stanford and with the San Francisco 49ers. That guy was supposed to be Shea Patterson, the transfer from Ole Miss.
I’m reserving judgment. even if some people aren’t. Because Shea Patterson has only played one game. They were very conservative and it felt anti-Harbaugh with how he was calling the plays. Game 1 was disappointing because I think they were better on paper than Notre Dame, but you’ve gotta give Notre Dame credit for coming out fast and getting them behind the 8-ball quick, which makes game-planning even harder.
I love how Jim coaches. I love how he interacts. I love his quirky personality, because those things distract from what’s actually going on, the X’s and O’s and wins and losses. But at the end of the day, he’s got to start winning these big games because otherwise people start questioning him in ways that are hard to answer.
The Spun: Another big name coach who is making the media rounds and you spoke with this week was Rick Pitino. What was he like? What were you expecting going in and how did it turn out?
TB: You expect him to be on guard and defensive and angry, but he’s actually really calm and cool and aware. You believe him when he says that he wasn’t aware of all these things that were going on when the FBI showed up at his doorstep. He has a book coming out about his experience. Some of the things he said makes sense. The FBI had this extensive investigation and only came up with four indictments and it was all assistant coaches and runners. I don’t know, you can understand when he says he feels he was scapegoated and set up to be the fall guy. Now, with that said, college basketball has always been a somewhat shady business. Things go on–some of them are condoned, some of them you just look the other way–and he is culpable as I think most of college basketball. But it is interesting, I ended up coming away liking him. I thought it would be an adversarial conversation but I was like ‘You know what? I could hang out with this guy.’