Tiki Barber calling a Jets-Giants game? Jets fans understandably are skeptical. But Andrew Catalon has an answer for them.
He recently was researching the rivalry and noticed that for the 1987 game, NBC deployed Marv Albert and . . . Joe Namath!
“Maybe it’s payback for Namath doing the ’87 game,” Catalon said. “We’ve got Tiki in the booth now.”
Catalon was joking, part of a wide-ranging video interview Newsday conducted with the entire CBS on-air crew for Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium.
It is a new team for CBS that has Catalon on play-by-play, AJ Ross on the sideline, Barber in his first season as a full-time analyst and Matt Ryan in his first season as an analyst after retiring as an NFL quarterback.
Along with producer Steve McKee and director Andy Goldberg, it is a group that seems to be both jelling and enjoying itself, and who knows the Jets and Giants.
They called the Jets-Broncos game in Week 5 and Giants-Commanders in Week 7.
The commute will work well for three of them, as will being steeped in the rivalry. Ryan is the only one of the four who does not live in New Jersey.
Last month, there was talk of Ryan having a far more direct role in this game. He was among those mentioned as a potential Jets signing after Aaron Rodgers tore an Achilles tendon.
“It wasn’t a possibility for me,” said Ryan, 38, who started 12 games for the Colts last season after 14 seasons with the Falcons. “I’ve really enjoyed what I’m doing right now, and these guys will tell you, we were laughing about it the whole time.
“I don’t want to get hit. I’m quite comfortable in the booth right now. Just an elbow or something from Tiki is really the most I can take right now.”
Ryan said he has seen significant improvement in Zach Wilson in recent weeks.
“This is a small thing, but I think it’s so important for young quarterbacks,” he said. “When things aren’t there down the field, he’s getting to checkdowns faster now and he’s getting the ball out of his hand and allowing his guys to make plays and just being efficient.
“I think with the way this team is built, they can win with efficient quarterback play. They’re good enough everywhere else. I think he’s done a nice job the last couple of weeks. I don’t think it’s been earth-shattering, but at the same time, it’s been winning football.”
Barber, the leading rusher in Giants history, had dabbled in NFL game analysis for several years, originally alongside his identical twin brother, Ronde, at Fox.
Now he is a regular at CBS at the same time that he has made a transition to a more high-profile role as an afternoon drive time host on WFAN.
“I don’t want to say it’s light lifting, but it feels organic,” Barber said, referring to the fact that he talks football on the FAN every day.
“The grind is the tape study. It is the catching up with the guys around the league that I know and getting some inside information that can prepare me for Sundays. I like being busy like this. It makes me feel alive. This is my 17th season out of the league, and this is an opportunity that I didn’t even know I wanted until my brother asked me to go and call a game with him at Fox. I missed being around it.”
Ryan credited the team’s closeness with helping him learn the job. Ross previously had worked with Catalon. Adding new analysts has been seamless.
“Matt and Tiki, as amazing as they were on the field, they’re even more amazing teammates off the field,” Ross said. “It’s just felt like a natural progression of us being a team every week.”
Said Catalon: “Nobody on this crew has an ego. It’s not like Tiki or Matt has to get in their ‘X’ amount of words. Nobody’s like that. It makes it run a lot smoother.”
CBS and its announcers caught a break for Jets-Giants when both teams won their most recent games, making this a far more meaningful matchup.
Barber said he sensed something in production meetings with the Jets when they were 1-3 and the Giants when they were 1-5.
“It didn’t feel like they were depressed or down; it didn’t feel like they were out of it,” he said. “The Jets were coming off the Kansas City loss and it was like, Did they win? That’s what we kept saying to each other [about their demeanor].
“[Giants coach] Brian Daboll said the same thing last Friday. He said, ‘This is not a funeral. We’re working hard. We’re putting in the work and I think guys are still optimistic that things are going to turn.’
“All they needed was a win, and they finally got it.”