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Tiki: My Life in the Game and Beyond Hardcover – September 18, 2007

2.9 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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About the Author

Tiki Barber is a record-holding retired running back for the New York Giants. He is the father of four children.

Gil Reavill is a journalist, author, and screenwriter who lives in Westchester County, New York.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Forty-two steps

Every run from scrimmage tells a story. Every run has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I've been running with a football for more than a decade and a half now, since the early 1990s, when I played alongside my twin brother Ronde with the Cave Spring High School Knights football team in Roanoke, Virginia. We were teammates at the University of Virginia, too. For the whole of my professional sports career, I was a running back for the New York Giants in the National Football Conference (NFC) of the National Football League.

Running with a football is a specialized skill. Not everyone can do it. So I want to give you an idea of what it feels like.

Beginning, middle, and end. Pick a run, any run. I'll show you the beginning, middle, and end.

Well, maybe not any run. Some would make extremely short stories, one-word smack-down poems. Let's pick a running play that is more of a full-length novel, one that also happens to be one of the best TD runs that I have ever made.

I'll break it down, stride for stride.

December 17, 2005. Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Our opponents were the Kansas City Chiefs, with their explosive running back Larry Johnson, then just coming into his own in his third season in the league.

The day had high clouds and was cool, with the temperature hovering around forty degrees. A wind out of the west had kicked up earlier, sweeping across the synthetic FieldTurf at the stadium, but by kickoff it had died to a whisper. Perfect football weather.

This was my season. I was playing for pride ("Play proud" is the two-word blessing my mother Geraldine sends Ronde and me on every single one of our game days), I was playing to win (the Giants came into the battle with the Chiefs with nine wins and four losses, in the hunt for the play-offs), and I was playing for my dear departed friends and mentors, Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch, owners of the Giants, both of whom had passed away in the previous six weeks.

I took all those reasons with me to the line when we broke huddle near the end of the first half, a little under three minutes left in the second quarter. The Chiefs were ahead by a field goal, 0-3. We were injury-depleted and had a lot of guys playing nicked. I remember feeling a powerful sense of determination, a calm kind of euphoria. We were behind. I could not, would not, allow the score to stay that way.

Our offense, behind quarterback Eli Manning, had the ball on Kansas City's forty-one yard line. The always steady Eli, who has never uttered a single curse word in the huddle in the three years I've played with him, called "Forty/Fifty Slide East on Red." That meant Eli would hand off to me and I would follow a pulling guard around the right side.

That's not the real name of the play, which is more of an I-could-tell-you-but-then-I'd-have-to-kill-you secret, since the Giants don't change their nomenclature all that often and I wouldn't want our calls to get too public.

As he always did, Eli also called two additional plays, in case the Chiefs altered their defensive set or he saw something that would require him to "check off" or audibly change the called play once he scoped the opponents at the line of scrimmage. One of the checks was a quick (a short pass) and the other was a pitch to me for an off-tackle run on the left side.

I didn't much like the idea of the second check. An off-tackle run to the left would lead me straight at Kendrell Bell, linebacker on the Chiefs' right-side post, a photon-fast Pro Bowl perennial, college shot-putter, and former Pittsburgh Steeler who gobbled up running backs for breakfast. Part of the reason I've been successful at my job is that I know enough to avoid punishing tacklers like Kendrell Bell at all costs.

Whatever happened, whether I ran right or left, Jim Finn would be helping me -- "Finny," my fullback, a bulldozer-blade of a blocker who would blast away any tackler in my path.

As we broke huddle, the noise from the 78,000-plus fans swelled in intensity, increasing from sixty decibels, say, the sound of heavy traffic, to more like one hundred, just below a kickoff roar. I inhaled and caught the familiar smell of game day, a sweet mix of autumn air, liniment, and sweat.

The beginning.

Time spiraled down, collapsing as it always does as the center approaches the ball. My heart rate climbed. A team physician could have told you that it increased from its normal sixty beats per minute upward past eighty.

I lined up in I-formation six yards behind Eli, who stood surveying the defense with his 305-pound center, the bodyguard-samurai-bullet-stopper Shaun O'Hara. My respiration rose and then steadied, as if in tune with the mounting screams from the stands.

Shaun screamed louder than the fans, yelling, "Ninety-nine," identifying the key K.C. defender, and Eli echoed him, also shouting, "Ninety-nine."

Shaun went into his crouch; Eli cocked his head slightly to the left so I could hear him and then checked the play to the off-tackle left. "One Taco West, Twenty-Thirty Veer."

I would be heading straight at Kendrell Bell.

Eli began his cadence. In the huddle he had said "on four," meaning the snap would come on the fourth number in the series. "Seven, fifteen, forty" -- Shaun would hike the ball on the next count -- "two."

The time between the snap and the whistle in professional football has got to be the most compressed, heightened reality this side of military combat. It is a zone beyond thought. I didn't think, Well, right now Eli will swivel 180 degrees and pitch the ball back to me and I will follow Finny off my left foot.

It's not that way at all. I don't think. I act. Everything -- breathing, body movement, mental processes -- becomes automatic.

Eli got Shaun's snap, turned right, and made a single yard-long stride away from the line, so that he was back to the forty-five yard line by the time of his second half step. He pitched the ball to me, two yards behind him. The football sailed within a foot of Finny, who was already booming forward toward the line.

I took my first stride off my left foot, crossing my right leg toward the left side, thereby alerting Bell and his Chief cohorts, who were watching me and Eli like hawks, keying off our movements. I cocked both arms out to receive the ball.

A pitched football from Eli Manning is not a shrinking-violet kind of thing. It's definite. Hard. The ball came at me perfectly. Eli didn't spiral it, but tossed it lengthwise, so that it presented its fattest part to me. I broke off the blocks to meet it. In the midst of my second stride of the run, my right hand pushed the ball up into the basket of my left arm, snug against my bicep.

The moment I take possession of the ball, I become prey. The eleven predators on the Chiefs defense, weighing in at more than a ton (2,741 pounds to be exact, according to their official listed weights), are every ounce bent on my total obliteration.

People talk about quick feet, balance, and speed as ideal ingredients for a running back, but for me the most vital element might be sniper-quality vision. I am not aware of doing it, but I've seen telephoto shots of myself during a run, and my eyes are open so wide they appear unnatural.

I'm taking everything in. I resemble nothing so much as an antelope feeling the hot breath of the lion. The difference being that instead of running away from the predators, I have to run directly at them, an antelope heading straight for the pride.

Right away I saw a problem. The first predator, Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen, had penetrated four yards into our backfield. Giants veteran Bob Whitfield, our offensive tackle on the left side, adjusted quickly. Instead of firing off the line, he stood Allen up and pushed him outside. On my third stride I had a decision to make. I had to figure out a way to get around Allen and not lose my fullback.

I didn't linger over it. I made a stutter-cut to the right, choosing the inside, then veered back left (strides four and five) and came within an inch of Whitfield's firmly planted left cleat as I blew past him and Allen toward the line.

Finny had been there before me. There was daylight. Well, what the sportscasters call "daylight" anyway, but for me it's always getting eclipsed, closing down, about to go dark. I felt like I was running directly into white Chiefs jerseys. With a couple yards still to go to the line of scrimmage, I was cut off on my right by Kansas City defensive end Eric Hicks, rampaging in from the other side.

On my left, sure enough, Kendrell Bell. Number 99. I hunched, protecting the ball, preparing to get hit, and picked up speed. I knew from elementary physics that the best way to bust a tackle is not to shrink from it, not to act on your self-preservation instincts -- Slow down! Danger! You are about to hit a wall! Slow down! -- but rather to accelerate. Counterintuitive, I know. But it works.

Again, I wasn't puzzling out physics just then. My impulse to accelerate in the face of a tackle was automatic by now, ingrained by years of training, coaching, and experience. Momentum and speed carried me. Finny banged Bell just enough to slow him down, and with my sixth stride I was at the Kansas City forty-one. All that trouble and toil just to get to the race's starting line.

Beginning, middle, and end. The beginning was over. I now entered the middle of the story, the place where novels and movies and oftentimes football runs die a miserable death. I was still braced by Hicks and Bell to my right and left, and about to ram into Jeremy Shockey straight ahead of me.

Shockey. The guy is unbelievable, always running in overdrive, slamming it, jamming it, blowing up the playing field. He's well-celebrated as a go-to pass receiver. For me, he's a kick-ass blocker and the dynamo that lights up the Giants.

Right at that moment Shockey was stacking up not one, not two, but three Chiefs, linemen and linebackers, stopping them in their tracks with a little help ... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Simon Spotlight; First Edition edition (September 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416938435
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416938439
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,120,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By L. Yonish on January 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Dear Tiki, the reviewers on this site who labeled your book as self-serving could not be more spot-on. All I had to read were a few pages of your book, starting on page 59, where you talk about a dear friend of mine from college (yes, I went to Virginia and was in the class of '97 with you). If you were trying to prove that you've faced adversity in your life, this was not the appropriate way to accomplish this. You exploited a short-lived relationship with my friend and as a result completely disrespected her. If you want anyone to believe that you grieved after her death, you should have first spelled her name correctly. This was one of a few inaccuracies I quickly discovered. I always thought you were a very nice person in college but now, I unfortunately can't look at you on TV without feeling a little ill. Next time, do your homework. Better yet, consider the lives and feelings of others before your own. These few pages in your book were disgraceful.
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I've always had a lot of admiration for Tiki Barber. Most of those reading this review probably already know who Tiki Barber is, but he played for the New York Giants as a tailback from 1997 to 2006, ending his career with over 10,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yards receiving. Only two other running backs have accomplished that feat (Marshall Faulk and Marcus Allen). He retired last year at the age of 31 on the top of his game.

I'm not a New York Giants fan, but as football fan you have to appreciate the way he played on the field. He wasn't the biggest back but he was an electric one and the last five years of his career he was one of the top backs in the league. He is also clearly a very bright and articulate fellow, retiring to go into a broadcasting career that isn't just some ex-jock talking sports.

In this book Tiki takes the opportunity to talk about his life experiences. He grew up in a single parent household in Roanoke, Virginia with his twin brother Rhonde Barber, who is an outstanding cornerback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Growing up with a hard working mother raising two sons, and having an alter ego in an identical twin, clearly shaped his outlook on life and kept him grounded. He also talks very briefly about his career at the University of Virginia, a school he and his brother chose more for its location and academics than they did (obviously) for its football prowess.

The bulk of the book, however, is about Tiki's career with the New York Giants. There really isn't a lot of nitty-gritty X's and O's discussion in the book, or interesting anecdotes about crazy player antics, strategies, or the inside story of the New York Giants.
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6 Comments 13 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Tiki Barber's self-serving and ultimately exhausting ode to himself offers very little redeeming information to the reader. If you've followed the New York Giants or Tiki Barber's career, then you'll be all-too-familiar with his passive-aggressive pattern of self-love and self-promotion.

For a smart guy (and clearly Tiki is an intelligent man), his emotional-intelligence has to be questioned. Wellington Mara, the deceased patriarch of the Giants liked to say "Once a Giant, Always a Giant." How ironic that while he has always spoken highly of Mr. Mara, Tiki's actions and words would have surely disappointed him.

Tiki has the credibility and the intellect to have written an important sports book comparable to Jim Bouton's Ball Four or Sparky Lyle's Bronx Zoo. Unfortunately for the reader, (and perhaps fortunately for the current Giant players and coaches that Tiki has criticized to advance his new career in broadcasting), the author uses the book to further promote and discuss his favorite topic: himself.

The unintentional laughter generated from the "Tiki interviewing Tiki" part of the book is priceless. Yes...he actually interviews himself, conjuring up a hilarious mental image of a self absorbed athlete interviewing himself in the mirror. He also includes a cringe-inducing topless picture of himself staring into the camera, which made this reader guffaw with laughter, clearly missing the target audience by a wide-margin.

Ultimately, I think society would have gotten by without this one.
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I picked up this book with mixed feelings. Around the NY area, there are Tiki-lovers and Tiki-haters. I neither loved nor hated Tiki, I am just a Giants fan who wishes he had stayed, but understands why he left. It is his own decision, and I respect it. Sometimes I think fans want to control players lives, like they are some sort of commodity and we are on the board of directors. Life doesn't work like that.

Enough preaching, and on to my review: I loved this book. It is the type where you cannot put it down; you say to yourself, "One more chapter and I'll go to sleep," and the next thing you know it is an hour later and you've read 5 more chapters. So you keep on reading.

I think in this book the reader can really get to know Tiki. The style, pace, is as if Tiki is narrating all of this. I am not sure how much his ghost-writer contributed to this, but of all sports biographies, this seems to me the one most likely to have been penned by the athlete, with minimal editing.

Reading about Tiki's childhood, relationship with his twin Ronde, his wife Ginny, members of the team, his masseuse in the city (strictly therapy) and especially his trip to Israel and meeting Shimon Peres, it was just incredibly engaging.

I recommend this book not only to Giants fans, but to anyone who wants to read a biography of someone who has a positive attitude, isn't scared to speak his mind, and wants to better himself and society. I respect Tiki a lot more, and to me he is no longer #21 hiding under a helmet, or the stud runningback on my fantasy team, he is a real person about whom I really know something.
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