Tiki Barber: Under appreciated and overexposed

His team has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise in the early going of the NFL season, their most recent loss to the Cowboys notwithstanding. Of course, he himself is a huge reason why, as his stellar play has made things much easier for second-year quarterback Eli Manning. In fact, he already has four touchdowns in five games. “He” is Tiki Barber, and “he” has agreed to sit down with yours truly for an exclusive interview. And for his generosity in doing this, there is only one condition: I must admit that this is not a real interview, and that it is completely made up in my own demented head. So there. I admit it. After all, that’s why Tiki and I get along so well – we know how to compromise.

Me: Tiki, three years ago it seemed as though your career would mirror that of Rodney Hampton, but now people are claiming that you just may be the best Giants’ running back since O.J. Simpson. How does that feel?

Tiki: I think you mean O.J. Anderson. And he wasn’t even that good. I think I’ve already proven that I’m better than him.

Me: Okay then. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think many Giants’ fans have taken you for granted until recently. Have you gotten better, or have we – and by “we” I mean the universe – simply become more appreciative of your abilities?

Tiki: Well, I think it’s probably a combination of both. I mean, I’ve always felt that I was a big part of this team, but there are a lot of stars in New York - guys like Jeremy Shockey and Michael Strahan for example. So to an extent, I probably flew under the radar a little bit. But at the same time, I also feel like I’ve really stepped up my game over the past couple of seasons. I feel stronger than I ever have, and our offensive system under Tom Coughlin suits me perfectly.

Me: Plus, you saw a doctor.

Tiki: A doctor? I don’t what you’re talking about.

Me: Ya’ know, to cure your fumble-itis.

Tiki: Ooooohhh. Ha ha! You’re lucky I have a sense of humor, because I could bench press you with one arm tied behind my back if I wanted to. No – I didn’t have to see a doctor about that, but I have worked really hard over the past couple of years to cut down on my chances of fumbling the football. It was a problem for a little while in the past, but I hope that I’ve remedied it, so to speak.

Me: Fair enough. But I know that you have seen at least one doctor – to get Lasik surgery – because I hear you on the radio everyday doing commercials about it. And I see you on television doing Visa commercials. And I see you on the YES Network sometimes doing a football show. You’re also in approximately 1,000 magazine ads. My wife claims she heard you’re supposed to be the next host of “The Swan,” and last year during the holidays, I went to the Monmouth Mall to sit on Santa’s lap, and I could have SWORN it was you. Seriously Tiki, you are everywhere these days. Are you already preparing for life after football?

Tiki: Wow. Even I haven’t heard that rumor about “The Swan,” which isn’t true by the way. At least I don’t think it is – I’ll have to check with my agent. Anyway, one thing I wanted to make sure of when I entered the league was that I’d make myself available for as many things as possible. Football is my career, but it’s not my life. And I don’t think it’s a secret that I enjoy being on camera, so being able to do that now will probably open some doors for me after my playing career is over. But that said, there is nothing that takes away from my focus with regards to preparing to play football every week. It’s not like I’m missing workouts so I can make a cameo in “Entourage.” Although that would be nice.

Me: Let’s talk about your teammates. A while back you went public with your frustration with Michael Strahan for not being more accommodating to the Giant organization during his contract negotiation period. Do you two still hate each other, or by asking this question, have I uncovered a great story of two rich athletes resolving their differences, resulting in the two of you becoming the bestest of friends? Because if that’s the case, I’d like to have the rights to it, before ESPN gets a hold of it, and has Chris Connelly narrate it on SportsCenter over some sappy piano music.

Tiki: First of all, we never hated each other. And that whole situation was overblown. Plus it was like, three years ago. Michael and I are cool. We’re not “bestest” friends, but there is no conflict between us. He’s a great player, and we both want to win, and that’s all I care about.

Me: Oh well, there goes my Pulitzer. Okay, next question. Does Jeremy Shockey crush Miller High Life cans on his forehead in the locker room, and give wedgies to the equipment managers, because that’s my impression of him.

Tiki: Actually, yeah – he does do that.

Me: Who is your favorite teammate named “Plaxico.”

Tiki: Hmmm, that’s a tough one. I’d probably have to say Plaxico Burress.

Me: Okay, one more. Eli Manning. Explain.

Tiki: What about him?

Me: Ummm, describe him in one word or less.

Tiki: What’s less than one word? Okay, whatever. I’ll go with…poised.

Me: I was thinking “unflappable.”

Tiki: That works too.

Me: Yeah, I love that word. It’s like, no matter how hard people try to flap him, they can’t, because he’s unflappable, ya’ know? Wait – have YOU ever flapped him?

Tiki: I don’t even know what that means.

Me: Me neither. And now that word has lost all meaning to me. We should have stuck with “poised.” Anyway, it’s time to wrap this thing up. Thanks for stopping by Tiki. This may not mean much coming from me, but I consider you to be the greatest Giants’ running back of all-time. On behalf of the universe, I’m sorry we’ve taken you for granted this long.

Tiki: That’s okay. I’m just trying to help this team win - I’m not looking for attention. But listen – I gotta go cause I’m filming a series of infomercials this afternoon for a new kind of computer monitor that doubles as a toaster oven. It can cook a baked potato in three minutes…three minutes!

Me: Nice.