Note: Evening Sun reporters love to argue, but instead of taking our disagreement to the streets, we bring it to the readers in a forum we call ďPoint/Counterpoint.Ē Today, Sun staff members Patrick Newell and Mike McGuire discuss the early retirement of Giants running back Tiki Barber.
MM: Farewell Tiki Barber! I could care less about his career and even less about the New York Giants (I donít care about much of anything Ė Iím a Bills fan). However, now that heís a villain for retiring ďin his prime,Ē Iíll be his biggest supporter (literally). I too supposedly called it quits before my time was up in football, but the way I saw it, the only thing that was up was my patience for the game (it is a game), the culture surrounding it (remember, itís a game), and the constant life and death implications applied to missing a block, not bench-pressing enough weight, or missing a film session because you had class. It takes a certain person to play college and professional football Ė you have to be an exceptional athlete first Ė and it has to mean more to you than almost anything else. I am not either of those. Iím guessing Tikiís problem lies with the latter.
PN: I remember you from your playing days at Ithaca after a standout high school career at Norwich, and I thought you had declared for the NFL Draft instead of giving up football for...what did you say? An education? Anyway, thereís plenty of time for Tiki Barber to peddle Lectric Shave or Isotoner gloves when heís worn out his 210-pound frame. Oh, and with his pearly whites, he may want to pitch Crest White Strips, but I digress here. Like Barry Sanders and the forefather of early retirements, Jim Brown, Barber has good years left in him -- at least a couple. Only a fraction of the absolute elite players in the world attain Barberís status, and heís arrogantly turning his nose up at the profession that will afford him multiple earning opportunities when his career should be finished.
MM: Last I checked, a two-week notice was the standard dear John letter in the business world. And donít be mistaken, the NFL is a business. And based on Tikiís off-the-field endeavors, he knows that angle pretty well. So is it sit in misery, getting smacked around on a team that wonít win, trying to compete with past legends youíll never surpass (Brown, Sanders) Ė or, move on to new challenges that, who knows, maybe heíll exceed further in than he did in football. Call me crazy, but Tiki might be the rare type where playing pro football is actually just an entry-level job for him. History does not mock him. Look at O.J., he was a great runner Ė but proved to be an even better actor, I mean The Naked Gun, The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, and Cocaine and Blue Eyes Ė all classics (Iíll admit, never saw C&BE).
PN: Okay, Iíll give you O.J. Simpson, his performance as Nordberg, George Kennedyís partner, was moving and Oscar worthy. Tiki Barberís brother Ronde, an exceptional defensive player for Tampa Bay, has no intention to retire, and has expressed some sorrow at not having his brother around. And Barber has played on playoff teams the last two years with the Giants, in his supposed swan song, he was among the NFLís single-season leaders in yards, and is the Giantsí all-time leading rusher. And Iíd love for you to point out any athlete who has had a marquis career on the field that was exceeded by his accomplishments off the field. Arthur Ashe is about the only one that comes to mind. Tiki Barber has achieved all of his individual goals as a player, yet isnít he supposed to be a team player? Football is played to win a championship, and that is every playerís ultimate goal. Why quit the game when the job isnít finished?
MM: Before you yell checkmate good buddy, give me one last move to tell you why youíre wrong. First, youíre preaching to the choir about Nordberg, if it wasnít a good point I wouldnít have written it (although it feels awkward to be talking highly of the Juice these days). Next, the percentage of marquis athletes that have exceeded their accomplishments off the field: 98 percent. But youíre right, I canít name them Ė there are too many. Also, I canít name them because Iím not their son or daughter, their husband or wife, their friends, members of their community, or business partners. I canít tell you all the wonderful things theyíve done, because Iím not a part of their real life, where great things really count. Just because it isnít measured in a stat, doesnít mean it isnít exceptional. When I quit playing football certain people said it was because I was a loser, or a quitter Ė in the meantime, I was getting good grades and figuring out the things I really enjoyed doing, like reading and writing. Not to say you canít play sports and do other things, it just so happens I didnít like football anymore, and found some other choices. Life after football; it happens Ė faster for some than it does for others Ė just like death. You canít fault a potential Hall of Famer for dying before their career was through, so can you fault someone for living before their career is through?
PN: As far as accomplishments that we in the public see, people remember an athleteís performances on the field, not that he went to his daughterís first-grade play or helped his son learn how to drive. We donít see that every-dad stuff, and weíre talking accomplishments for public consumption. When you make a career choice, you follow through on your commitment. Most of us donít have the luxury of retiring early to pursue another vocation. You, me, and Tyler Murphy who sits between us, weíre humble newspaper men who will work to age 66 1/2 Ė unless we finally cash in on the Mega Millions jackpot. Yeah, Iíd like to pursue my dream of making the Olympic curling team, but that is just a pipe dream. Tiki Barber already warmed his broadcasting chair last year when the Giants took an early exit, and it would still be waiting for him if he continued his career. By leaving the game early, he is short shrifting the fans who made him so popular.