If it involves Tiki, it stirs the pot

Former Giants running back Tiki Barber will work Former Giants running back Tiki Barber will work as an analyst on a new show called "Big Blue Live." (Undated file photo) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

Tiki Barber was back in the news over the weekend in customary Tiki Barber fashion: In a way that didn't reflect well on him and that partly was based on a misunderstanding.

The former Giants running back said on 1050 ESPN radio that he had reached out to Tom Coughlin for a face-to-face meeting to try to repair their relationship but was rebuffed through Giants PR chief Pat Hanlon.

The story got local and national play and was a topic on sports talk radio and Twitter. It even was true, except for two key elements: The request primarily was to conduct an interview for NBC, and the incident occurred more than three years ago.

"In [December] 2008 we reached out to do an interview and to clear the air, very similar to what I did privately with Eli,'' Barber said Thursday. "He said no.''

(Hanlon declined to comment, but in 2008 he said, "In the spirit of the holidays, let me put it to you this way: You and I will be leading Mass on Christmas morning at St. Pat's before this week's proposed interview takes place.'')

It wasn't the first time Barber had tried to reconnect with his old coach. "After they won the Super Bowl, we sent him a gift, which we never heard anything about,'' Barber said.

"No need to beat up a dead tree. If he's anti this happening, I'm not going to push it. At some point he will be ready for it, maybe -- or maybe not.''

The Barber/Giants divorce of 2006 continues to echo, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that this came up in the middle of another Giants playoff run.

Then, several days later, there was this: Barber will return to television Sunday night on SNY, two years after the end of his disappointing term at NBC.

The subject? The Giants, naturally. He will work as an analyst on a new show called "Big Blue Live,'' with fellow former Giant Shaun O'Hara, after the NFC Championship Game.

Barber said he hadn't had any television job offers lately, so accepting the SNY gig was a "no-brainer.'' It could lead to more on the network, but he said he is unsure whether he'll pursue a return to full-time media work. He said he has "a ton of other things going on,'' including working with a shipping company in business development.

His most visible recent career move was his attempt to return to the NFL at 36. Barber was confident he at least would get a shot after the lockout ended. Instead, zilch. What happened?

"I can't tell you for certainty, I truly can't,'' he said, lamenting that even teams that had assured him they'd bring him in did not.

Barber said he has three theories. One is that after the lockout, teams thought they had more urgent priorities than evaluating "a 36-year-old running back who's been retired for five years.'' Another was that teams were reluctant because "it would be too much of a media circus bringing someone like me in.''

A third was "there was some sort of blackballing of me,'' which he said he heard from a friend who is an NFL coach.

The "unexplained episode,'' as Barber called it, was another blow to his image, including the very public, tabloid-fodder breakup of his marriage. He remains remarkably unpopular among most Giants fans despite his stellar record as a player. But he has sought to turn the aborted comeback into a positive.

"Trying to come back got me off my couch,'' he said. "That's the truth. I had nothing to do, no prospects of doing anything, wondering where my life is going.''

He believes he is pointed in the right direction again. "I've always been an optimist,'' he said. "I always believe at some point things are going to turn around. It's a cliché, but it's who I am.''

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