Tiki Barber never has analyzed an NFL game in a TV booth, but when he does so on Sunday he will benefit from an experienced partner who can show him what that looks like – literally.
The former Giants running back will appear on Fox alongside former Buccaneers cornerback Ronde, his identical twin, in what is believed to be an NFL television first. Kenny Albert will do the play-by-play.
“It’s exciting, obviously,” Tiki said on Wednesday. “It’s new to me, but it’s going to be fun.”
Ronde has been a Fox analyst since 2013, while Tiki’s current media job is as a host on CBS Sports Radio. The two were teammates in high school and college, and played against each other five times as professionals.
Tiki said the idea began with Ron Berkowitz, a friend who has a relationship with Fox through his work as a media representative for Alex Rodriguez. Berkowitz brought the idea to John Entz, Fox Sports’ president of production, and two weeks ago a deal was consummated.
Since then Tiki has been asking Ronde for tips.
“My brother’s a maniac; he over-prepares,” Tiki said. “He told me, ‘You need to do about half of what I do,’ because obviously I’m going to be with him. It’s picking out five or six players from each team, developing a story in my head about them, doing research on them and really kind of hoping that they become part of the story of the game.”
Barber is not worried about being up to the job after two decades of media experience.
“It’s not that I have my brother as a crutch,” Tiki said, “but he is there, and at the end of the day we are talking football, having fun and explaining what we see.”
Perhaps the biggest concern about the experiment is that the brothers sound similar enough that it might be difficult for viewers to identify who is speaking at times.
“I said the same thing to Ronde: How are people going to know?” Tiki said. “He said it’s little things, like saying, ‘When I played for the Giants,’ or, ‘Ronde, tell me about this.’ It’s just using some identifiers.
“Our voices are a little bit different, but not discernible. So it’s going to be all about those cues, mostly on Kenny to set us up . . . I think as the game goes on it will become easier to tell.”
Like every network analyst, Tiki will meet with Giants players for pregame production meetings, meaning he will encounter former teammate Eli Manning, whom he famously criticized early in his time as an NBC analyst in 2007.
Many fans assume there is tension between them after all these years. Barber insisted there is not.
“It’s a narrative that sells newspapers, I think,” he said. “It’s like I haven’t seen him on multiple occasions and been to charity events together and everything else. It will be absolutely fine. There will be no issue at all with Eli.”
Manning confirmed he has no lingering problems with Barber. “No, I’ve seen Tiki over the years; our relationship is fine,” he said on Friday. “Tremendous player and great teammate. So I have no issues with Tiki.”
Added Barber: “Eli and I and his wife and my wife had a nice little conversation at the Robin Hood Foundation dinner a couple of months ago. We’ve never been adversarial. I read a headline: ‘Eli’s harshest critic.’ I’m like, c’mon, really?”
That headline came out of his comments on the radio after a Week 2 loss to the Lions in which Barber said if the Giants do not do a better job protecting Manning he will “end up in a body bag.”
“His game is struggling because what he’s really good at the Giants aren’t able to do right now, which is play-action pass and take deep drops and throw the ball down the field,” Barber said. “That’s what he’s always excelled at. But when you don’t run the ball, the linebackers are not fooled . . . You can talk about Eli’s arm strength, about his age, about how many times he got sacked. At the end of the day, if you can’t run the ball it makes it much more difficult on your quarterback.”
Barber said that the Giants did a better job protecting Manning in their loss to the Eagles, and he believes the Giants are not far away from turning around their fortunes. But at 0-3, time is running out.
“Huge game,” he said. “You couldn’t have planned it that way, but it kind of worked out that way, given the expectations I think everyone had before the season to now being in a must-win game in Week 4.”
Barber knows that more than 10 years after he retired, he remains a lightning rod for many Giants fans, which only figures to add to the marketing power of Fox’s booth Sunday.
“There is a reaction regardless, and that’s what matters,” Tiki said. “The other reason would be because it’s a novelty. It’s twins!”