Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

Amani Toomer lasted 13 seasons in a Giants locker room full of bigger personalities than his, ones seemingly destined for second careers in media.

Sure enough, teammates Michael Strahan, Jason Sehorn, Tiki Barber, Jesse Palmer, Antonio Pierce and others followed that path. Even his first two head coaches, Dan Reeves and Jim Fassel, dabbled in radio.

But Toomer? Even if he was the best wide receiver in the history of the franchise, his laid-back Berkeley personality -- including long pauses while pondering just the right thing to say -- seemed a poor fit for TV.

Now it can be told, though: That wasn't the real him, he said.

Reluctant either to stir the pot or merely to repeat the company line, he "kind of set that aside and let all those other people say what they wanted to say and let my play on the field get my point across.

"Now the gloves are off and I can say what I want to say.''

The trick is having something to say worth hearing, and developing the kind of on-camera presence that comes naturally to a select few ex-jocks such as Strahan.

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Toomer, 37, who majored in journalism at Michigan, is willing to work at it and willing to start small. His current portfolio includes live high school games on MSG Varsity, My9's Giants postgame show and regular appearances on 1050 ESPN radio, including guest co-hosting shifts.

This weekend he will work two live games, including Iona Prep at undefeated St. Anthony's Saturday night. (His friend and fellow former Giant, Roman Oben, also is a game analyst for MSG Varsity.)

The high school games in particular resonate for Toomer, who played for one of the top programs in the nation at De La Salle of Concord, Calif. After losing in his last game there in 1991, the school won 151 in a row through 2004.

With that background, Toomer is well qualified to assess the quality of play in the metropolitan area. He has been "very impressed,'' he said, especially with a level of preparation and creativity that has evolved greatly since his era.

Toomer was supposed to see St. Anthony's at State College, Pa., in September but the game was canceled because of flooding. He has seen New Jersey power Don Bosco, ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, twice and said it can match up with any program in America.

Being on site for games also has shown Toomer that even in an area dominated by pro sports, high school events have enduring appeal.

"It's impressive,'' he said. "In terms of pure excitement, some of these schools are every bit as good as any other place in the nation.''

Naturally, Toomer can go only so far in critiquing high school players on TV, but he is more free to express opinions about the Giants. He supported fellow recent retirees who have generated controversy by going after active former teammates.

"I think you're paid to have an opinion, and if you have an opinion that's critical, you have every right to say it,'' he said. "If you're being critical just to be critical, I have a problem with that.''

(In April, Toomer caused a brief stir when he compared commissioner Roger Goodell's handling of the lockout to a "Gestapo-type situation.'' He quickly apologized.)

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Toomer said he has no regrets about leaving the field for good after getting injured in the Chiefs' training camp in 2009. He believes he got all he could out of his career.

The goal now is to do the same as a media member. "A lot of [retired] players struggle when they don't have a challenge anymore,'' he said. "This is a challenge for me. I'm taking it on."

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in MSG Varsity and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.