Friday, August 24, 2007

Tiki, No One's Buying Your New Edgy Persona

Tiki acting irreverent is about as natural as what's going on in this photograph.

When Tiki Barber took the job with NBC's new Super Sunday Night Extravaganza where the best football is played and everyone knows that Sunday Night is for football (or so I've been told), it was probably under the condition that he bring something (ANYTHING) to the table wholly distinct from his cleverly crafted NFL player persona. So I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised when Tiki immediately tried to break out of his "good guy" mold and stir up the audience. It's just that the whole thing seems so fake. And that's probably because it is.

You see, Tiki is vanilla. He is Penn St. football or Princeton Basketball. There is no flash to his personality, no edge, no trash talk. His entire persona is exquisitely manicured in the vein of a Tom Brady or Matt Lauer. You trust Tiki and you're willing to let him guide you through a football game maybe a color analyst or halftime show personality like a James Brown or Howie Long, but you're not listening to Tiki in order to have your eyebrows raised. That's Irvin, Deion or Steve Young's role. You expect those guys to make outlandish statements and then try to back them up. You expect those guys to call out players. But with Tiki, I just don't see it. That's why I found Tiki's slam of Eli Manning so pathetically contrived.

Tiki is one of the more self-aware athletes on the planet. He has a almost a compulsive desire to control how he is perceived. He didn't like his on-field reputation as a fumbler, so he changed is running style. He didn't like being a soft-spoken go-with-the-flow team player, so he spoke out against his coach. Tiki didn't want to pigeonhole himself into a purely "sports broadcast guy" so he showed he could branch out with a political show. And when he became a face of the NBC Sunday Night Football in America program, he didn't want people to see him as the "good guy" Tiki Barber who's gonna give it to you with his usual bland slant, so he called out an easy target from his old team. He said it not because he normally shoots off at the mouth or because he thinks the idea that Eli Manning may not be a vocal leader on the Giants is particularly relevant, pressing or newsworthy (the Giants have made the playoffs the last two years. So the idea that Eli's personality has somehow affected the team's on-field performance seems a little odd.). He said it because if it came from him, THAT would be newsworthy. Not the content of his comments, but the fact that they were coming from him would be noticed. The controversy would be interesting and HE (Tiki) would be interviewed about his comments and his desire to voice them. It would bring the attention to himself.

The whole act was wholly calculated (as Eli himself suggested) and completely contrived in an effort to give Tiki's television personality more grit and edge. And that's what separates him from the Irvin's, Deion's and Barkley's of the broadcasting world. When those guys say something controversial--at the moment they say it at least--they believe it. They aren't creating controversy to bolster themselves (for the most part, those guys aren't that savvy). Sadly, that's exactly what Tiki is doing. He doesn't care that Eli wasn't vocal or seemed to shrink in the lockerroom (hopefully not in that respect), he just knew that if he said something about it, it'd be newsworthy and maybe people would look at him differently because he's willing to stir up controversy. He's like the radio host who takes a contrary view on an issue just to get people to call in. It's pathetic and disingenuous, and eventually people will see right through it and he'll get publicly called out for it. For now, this is about as public a call out as he's gonna get. So now at least 18 people will know what a fucking phony he is. It's a start.


Blair said...

Love this article, bang on about Tiki.

# 56 said...

Well put, I think most Giant fans see through the Tiki act. Following the comments on a variety of fan sites, they are running a venomous 95% against Barber. That speaks volumes to his credibility, as he has a shot at Canton and Eli has not lived up to expectations.

Luke said...

I don't disagree that Tiki is pretty much a total, self-absorbed douchebag, but this claim really misses the mark:

"He didn't like his on-field reputation as a fumbler, so he changed is running style."

No NFL running back can afford to fumble the ball. He had to change his running style or he wouldn't have been a pro running back anymore. I hardly think it had anything to do with him caring about being PERCEIVED as a fumbler.

That's like saying a cancer victim sought treatment because they didn't like being PERCEIVED as a cancer victim, rather than saying they sought treatment because they were going to die if they didn't.

Luol Dang! said...

@Luke: Maybe. But Tiki broke out as a runner while still fumbling all the time in 2000. The offense was pretty much run through him for 3 more years while also fumbling a ton. They didn't bring in more backs to replace him or even really compete with him after Dayne in 2000. He was the best player they had for 4 years BEFORE he learned to hang onto the ball. So while his fumbling was a flaw, I'm not sure the change "saved his career."

That being said, I thought it too obvious to remark that Tiki's ability to hold onto the ball would also serve some on-field utility (the Giants would continue to possess the ball). But Tiki was fumbling his whole career. He only made the change at the point when he was labeled "Tiki Barber, Pro Bowl talent but fumbles a ton." Whether the desire to make a change came about because of the need to hold the ball in terms of on-field strategy, because he was sick of the fumbler label or a bit of both could be argued. But to argue that Tiki's ego was in no way a factor in making the change would be a little naive. Plus, whether it's true or not, it fit with what I was writing. So I like my interpretation better.