Tiki Barber, Ronde Barber: Attitude about football differed

Tiki Barber, left, and his brother Ronde Barber Tiki Barber, left, and his brother Ronde Barber smile together for photos after an NFC practice for the Pro Bowl at the Ihilani Resort in Kapolei, Hawaii. Photo Credit: AP, 2007

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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. ...

It would have been understandable if Tiki Barber had watched his twin brother honored before the Buccaneers' opener in Tampa Sunday and thought, at least for a moment: That could have been me.

If he had not retired after 2006, perhaps by now he would be the kind of iconic, admired figure here that Ronde is for the Bucs, not a lightning rod more likely to be booed than cheered by Giants fans.

But Tiki said those thoughts never crossed his mind as Ronde followed a ceremony honoring his 200th consecutive start with a sack and interception in a 16-10 victory over the Panthers.

That is because as close as the brothers always have been, their approach to football diverged.

"What amazed me is not the result, but that he still loves doing it," Tiki said. "The fact he still wants to do it is what shocked me."

Tiki lost that desire years ago, eager to try other things, beginning with a media career that has not yet panned out and now as part of a company called Thuzio that aims to help athletes line up paid appearances. (He attempted a comeback as a player last year but was not signed.)

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"While [football] defined me, I never wanted it to define me," Tiki said. "It's completely the opposite for Ronde. He loves that he's defined by what he does, and he's excellent at doing it."

Said Ronde: "Yeah, I'm definitely a football player, and I love what I do. I like coming to the building. I like going to work."

That enthusiasm -- and a one-year, $3-million contract -- led him to return at 37 to a rebuilding team with a new coach and a new position: free safety, after 15 seasons at cornerback.

Actually Greg Schiano started him as a nickel corner against Carolina to allow him to make it an even 200 starts at that position, the most all-time. But safety is where he will be most of 2012, including against the Giants Sunday.

Tiki said the transition should be seamless, given that for years Ronde was not a "quote-unquote shutdown corner. You weren't Jason Sehorn-ing him on Randy Moss."

Rather, Barber played in Tampa's famed Cover 2, often playing in zones and often acting as a linebacker of sorts, one reason he has 28 career sacks, a league record for cornerbacks. He also has 44 interceptions.

"I've really just embraced my role; I think it's been good so far," Ronde said.

"He's a guy who relies on instincts," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "He has a great understanding for what's going on. So you have to keep your eyes on him because he will guess. He will cheat like a lot of the great ones do."

Ronde was brought back in part as a mentor for younger teammates. But that did not excuse him from the grind of Schiano's first camp. Tiki said Ronde told him, "This dude is killing me. I've never had a training camp ever like this."

Said Tiki: "His response was perfect. He said, 'We lost 10 damn games in a row last year. He can do whatever he wants to do and we have to accept it.' "

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Ronde survived, and is back for more. He credited good genes, a good regimen and good luck for lasting this long.

Tiki spent a long weekend with his brother for a celebration that included a postgame party. Nice. But Tiki said even if he had stayed in New York, he doubts he would have been treated now the way his brother is in Tampa.

"Apples to oranges," Tiki said, citing Tampa as a smaller community where "they love their stars regardless."

Ronde avoided discussing Tiki's relationship with the Giants and their fans beyond saying, "Those records will never go away. It is what it is, man. He'll bounce back hopefully onto the good side of that relationship sooner or later."

Sunday Ronde will play for the first time in the new stadium Tiki never got the chance to experience as a Giant.

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But Tiki will be in the building. "Don't ask me who I'm rooting for," he said.

There was no need to.

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