Michael Strahan, a Giant Hero vs Tiki Barber, a Giant Zero: How Two Superstars Took Completely Different Career Paths

Two Giants that hold a multitude of franchise records

Try to remember the fall of 2006.  The Steelers & the NFL referees were ready to defend their Superbowl Championship after screwing over the Seattle Seahawks in February. New York Giant fans wondered if the two long time faces of the franchise, running back, Tiki Barber and defensive end, Michael Strahan would ever win a Superbowl. They came close once before, during the 2000 season, as they were part of the biggest blowout in Giants playoff history, defeating the Minnesota Vikings, 41-0, for the NFC Championship, under the play of a now unheralded NY Giant, Kerry Collins.

While celebrating the biggest win of their career together, the ultimate prize wasn’t meant to be, as the Giants lost the Superbowl that year to the Baltimore Ravens.  Quarterback Kerry Collins and Coach Jim Fassel would hang on for a few more seasons, but eventually it was time to move on. Enter the younger brother of future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, a one Eli Manning. To join a new quarterback, the Giants hired ex-Jaguars coach, Tom Coughlin, to man the sideline. 

For Strahan & Barber, they were two men who fought many battles for Big Blue. They were battle tested, beaten and sore. The light was at the end of the tunnel, and who knows how much longer they could go?  However, both loved being Giants. They loved playing for Big Blue. They were here for the long haul. While they may have secretly wanted Kurt Warner to lead the offense in 2004, it was only a matter of time before the quarterback with the right last name would take the helm. Ushering in a new quarterback is not an easy job. Just look at the start of the careers of legends like Troy Aikman, Steve Young and Eli’s brother. Being a rookie QB is a rough road. Barber & Strahan stayed with the ship.

As time progressed and Eli got some games under his belt, Strahan would continue to rack up team defensive records for the Giants, while Barber continued to extend his legacy as the best Giants running back of all time. However, when it was all said and done, Strahan would become the most likable and well known Giant in team history while Barber’s impressive career was swept under a rug. It never meant to be this way, but the decisions these two men made in the latter part of their careers defined them forever.
In happier times, the legendary 92 and just another Giant to wear 21

The lives of Tiki Barber & Michael Strahan changed forever in that 2006 season. Tom Coughlin was known as a military type of a coach, a  drill sergeant coach that was hard-nosed and ran a tight ship. His style wore thin with the veterans. Practicing in pads, extreme conditioning drills and demanding everyone always be early for team meetings/events was a change for the two Giant stalwarts.  Strahan, knowing his end was near, wasn’t thrilled and would approach the coach behind closed doors. Tiki Barber, hurting from 10 years of being smashed by gridiron brutes, couldn’t handle it and lashed out publicly. 

Tiki Barber and Michael Strahan had their incidents with each other in the past. During the 2002 season, Barber vented about Strahan’s contract negotiations. Strahan, already the highest paid defensive player in the league wanted a huge raise. Barber, acting like a fan, and I include myself as well, wanted Strahan to take less money to help the Giants get under the salary cap. With the extra money, Barber hoped the Giants would sign better players, and get another chance at the Superbowl.

While fans have been complaining about player contracts since the dawn of free agency, it is a huge no-no, a sign of disrespect and complete unprofessionalism, for another player to talk negatively about another players contract, especially your own teammate. The Giants locker room quickly defended Strahan and blasted Barber.  Strahan would bark back at Barber, suggesting that Barber give up his signing bonus. Despite the public war over money, the two both remained with the team and acted professional.

Strahan always had the love of the locker room behind him, while Tiki was more of a loner. It was well known that Tiki would be perfect for TV after his playing career. Where Strahan was rugged, Tiki had model looks. Tiki had that milion dollar smile, while you could drive a car through the gap in Strahan’s teeth. Tiki was made for television and it was no secret that was the move he was going to make, once he retired.

When Tiki Barber announced he was going to retire during Week 10 of that 2006 season, his life as he envisioned would never come to be.  Just like his decision to retire, Tiki would make bad decision after bad decision.

What was Tiki Barber truly thinking when this happened at the time?

Tiki Barber had it with Tom Coughlin. Tiki blasted Coughlin in the media for abandoning the running game after a loss to the Jaguars. Tiki would also go on to bury Coughlin’s coaching style to anyone who would listen. Barber said he felt demeaned and belittled by Coughlin, and that was the reason why he was retiring, despite probably having another year or two left in the tank. At that time, Giant fans were sympathetic for the Giants legend. After all, the average NFL career lasts two seasons. Tiki gave the Giants 10 great seasons. Coughlin, despite a lengthy coaching career, was unproven to Big Blue. However, fans would view Coughlin and Barber in different lights as time moved on.

Barber was a highly coveted talent in the free agent world of TV. Barber would choose NBC, after having many networks make offers for his services. Barber, who had an interest in world news and politics, chose NBC so he could venture out under the NBC umbrella. He would make his bones with NBC’s new Sunday Night Football program, in the hopes of doing more.

In Barber’s first season of retirement, the 2007 NFL season, Barber attacked Eli Manning during his time on NBC’s SNF. Barber said the players had no faith in Eli and called Eli’s pep talks “comical.” He made it out to be that Eli could never be a leader. Those words would fuel Eli and Eli would ultimately get the last laugh, as the Giants went on a historic run, capping off the season by defeating the 18-0 New England Patriots in the Superbowl. While Tiki Barber watched, Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin and Michael Strahan raised the Lombardi trophy. All Barber could think is, “What if?”

After that Superbowl season, Strahan and Coughlin both talked about how Strahan approached Coughlin about his style. Strahan, having the voice of the locker room talked to Coughlin professionally and addressed his concerns. Coughlin listened and for the first time in his coaching career, changed his style a bit. Both thanked the other man for positively affecting each other’s careers. It was the complete opposite of the Barber & Coughlin relationship.

After winning the Superbowl, Michael Strahan became a legend to Giant fans for life. He was no longer a Karl Malone, a Dan Marino, a Charles Barkley or any other player that had a legendary career but couldn’t win the big one. He was an all-time great, and a Hall of Famer. Strahan was quickly sought out by Fox Sports after Strahan’s retirement. Fox added a seat to their Sunday NFL pregame show, and Strahan quickly gelled with long-time anchors Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson and Howie Long.

Where Tiki Barber took shots at the Giants and their players after their retirement, Strahan embraced his legacy with Big Blue. Strahan defended the Giants publicly. He still worked with the team. He mentored Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. He was there for the Giants and the community. He was everything Barber was not.

As time went on, the Giants would win another Superbowl. Again, Coughlin and Manning would raise the Lombardi trophy. The two guys Barber publicly criticized the most, celebrated their second Superbowl victory together. Tiki would never say anything disparaging about either men publicly again. Barber would also be let go by NBC completely. Once a sought out free agent in the television world, Barber was considered damaged goods and no major network touched him. Barber had to settle for work with BBC (UK) to cover the NFL, while Strahan was right on that podium celebrating with his ex-teammates and coach during Superbowl 46.

The Giants made Strahan the face of the franchise, even in retirement. During parades, fund-raisers, events, etc, Strahan was there. Barber was nowhere to be found. To make matters even worse for Barber, it was Michael Strahan who got the highly valued & coveted spot as Regis Philbin’s replacement on ABC. Barber lusted and dreamt that he would be a huge television personality after his NFL career. Instead, it was Michael Strahan, the face of the NY Giants, who was part of the biggest talk show in morning TV with one network and covering football on another. To make the wound burn more, ratings instantly rose once Strahan replaced Philbin, while FOX remains the ratings leader in NFL pregame events. Strahan had it all.

Even when Strahan had his problems, they never were front page news. Strahan had a messy divorce and child support issues. Football & Strahan fans looked at Strahan’s ex-wife as a gold-digger and court reports suggest that as well. Tiki, once again, was on the other end of the stick.

How to offend every woman in America

On April 5th, 2010, it was reported that Tiki Barber left his then pregnant wife, who was carrying twins, for a 23 year old flaky intern. Talk about the ultimate scumbag move. The guy who wanted to be Mr. Corporate TV not only committed one of the most heinous and immoral acts in society, he also effectively killed his career. Who wants to watch a guy who cheated on his wife of 10 years, who he had two kids with  and was carrying his twins to boot? 

To make matters worse, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, Barber talked about cheating on his pregnant wife with no remorse. He said he dragged his agent into the situation. Barber said he had a “reverse Anne Frank thing going on”, because he would have his trysts in the attic of his Jewish agent’s house. Anne Frank & millions of Jews were persecuted because of their faith. Barber cheated on his pregnant wife. The two situations were not the same at all. Barber would eventually muster out a pathetic apology for his comments when pressured by the media.

Tiki Barber, basically exiled from TV at this point, would try to make an NFL comeback. After the Giants quickly gave up the rights to sign him, no other team would touch him with a ten foot pole. The running back is not a position that old men excel at, especially one that was out of the league for five years. The RB is a young mans position and the average career isn’t that long. It was reported that Tiki needed the money due to his expensive divorce.

To this day, Barber is largely forgotten about by the Giants organization. While they are seemingly celebrating Michael Strahan every week, you never hear Barber’s name ever. Sure, Barber & Strahan were inducted into the Giants Ring of Honor, but while Strahan’s #92 was never issued to another player, Barber’s #21 has been worn by many. Michael Strahan’s number isn’t retired yet, but it is only a matter of time. Barber, whose number should be retired and he should be lauded & admired as the greatest running back in NYG history, is a memory the Giants are trying to repress. 

Today, while Michael Strahan is seemingly on TV everyday, where fans still wear the #92 jersey to Giant games, Tiki Barber is the black sheep of Giants. Barber has a radio show that no one listens to. He makes random appearances on television shows that you’ve probably never seen or heard of. The career and life he desired belongs to Michael Strahan. This snowball of events can be traced to that 2006 season, a season Tiki Barber must think about every night before he goes to sleep.

Tiki Barber should be a legendary Giant. Tiki Barber highlights should play at Metlife Stadium. Barber should have a job with the team in some capacity, even if it’s just shaking hands with fans. Barber should have carte blanche with the Giants. Instead, Barber will forever be known as the forgotten Giant. Even in a time where Lawrence Taylor, perhaps a better player than Strahan, (But could never do the TV work like him) is implicated in underage hooker cases, Barber is less popular. 

The next time you see a Giant wearing #21 on the field, just shake your head and realize that number should be retired & never forgotten. Then remember that Tiki Barber did this all to himself.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” 
– Robert Frost

Tiki Barber. Michael Strahan. Two men who took completely different roads in the season of 2006.

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Comments

  1. Well written. I was disgusted by Tiki’s selfish and heartless act toward the mother of his children – while she was pregnant. I wish only worse things to come for him. This is a good beginning.

  2. As a kid, Barber was my favorite Giant, watching him play was just incredible. When the Giants struggled, Barber would somehow create some momentum for the team, which is so important for the game. Knowing and understanding now as to exactly what happened then, it’s no wonder he really is the forgotten Giant. He should be considered a legend. #21 should’ve been a retired number, but it really was a bad attitude and even just a bad personality that ruined him. Watching Landon Collins wear #21 does bring me joy, he brings a lot of redemption to that number and removing a lot of that bad taste in our (the fans) mouths.

    1. It’s amazing the way Strahan and Barber’s careers went after their retirements. Eli & Tom winning the SB the year after Tiki left, plus Tiki cheating on his pregnant wife killed Tiki forever. If Tiki was on the SB team and kept his mouth shut, cheating on his wife aside, he would’ve had his number retired. It truly is a shame.

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