Tiki Barber, attempting to make a football comeback from a year of personal and professional turmoil, endured one of his most contentious times of that period Wednesday in a WFAN interview with Mike Francesa.
Following up on Tuesday’s HBO interview on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, the bombastic radio host grilled the Giants’ all-time rushing record holder on the 36-year-old’s plans to return to football after a four-year absence, during which time he was fired from a job at NBC with a $2 million annual salary, booed at the Giants’ Ring of Honor ceremony, and left his pregnant wife for a 23-year-old NBC intern.
The conversation overheated when Francesa called his NBC career “a big failure,” an assertion Barber vehemently denied.
“I think you‘re throwing a little bit of hyperbole out there, Mike, because I didn‘t have a ‘big failure‘ in broadcasting,” said Barber, who is reportedly heading to the Steelers upon resolution of the NFL lockout. “I had a lot of fulfillment at NBC.”
Francesa challenged him, though.
“The guys at NBC, and I know all of them, they felt you did a bad job and they said that they thought you were entitled,” Francesa said. “I mean, they were not complimentary about your work.”
The next eight minutes turned into a three-way debate — Barber agent Mark Lepselter was also on the call — on the nature of his NBC departure. Barber admitted he was ill-prepared for his role as interviewer and reporter, but rejected the anonymous evaluators.
“I don’t know what I could have done better at NBC,” he said.
Barber also said the evolution of the game from one featured back to two or more sharing carries will only help his comeback attempt.
“The question will be, am I in the physical shape to run for 50 yards and come back and do it again two plays later?” Barber said. “I can’t know that until I start playing the game.
“The way the league has changed, it benefits me," he added. "Especially a guy like me who can learn an offense quickly and be a smart player on the field, and not just one with the ball in his hand.”