On cue, Giant sheds shyness, tacklers

Off-season broadcaster is talk of New York as its do-everything back

`Right place at right time'

January 25, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - New York Giants running back Tiki Barber came into the world early and blossomed late.

Now, at 25, he's comfortably centered, finding himself at the right place at the right time - again.

Barber's first coming-out party was at the University of Virginia, where he used football and all the attention that came with it as a social tool.

Now, in New York, he has enjoyed a breakthrough season on the football field and discovered a new sideline, serving in the off-season as the host of radio and television talk shows and as a TV sports anchor.

"It's all about being in the right place at the right time," said Barber, in his fourth year with the Giants. "I was very shy when I was little. I never wanted to talk to anyone. But when I got to Virginia, it was like media everywhere; you just had to talk. And it made me a better person."

Born premature with his twin brother, Ronde, a cornerback with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Barber's full name, Atiim Kiambu, translates to "fiery-tempered king."

It turns out he was a battler from the start: "I was in an incubator trying to pull all the tubes out of my nose, kicking and doing all that stuff," he said.

On Sunday, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound versatile back will be trying to shake loose from an intimidating Ravens defense.

"Tiki Barber, from a skilled position standpoint, has probably been the most important guy on our team this year," said Giants quarterback Kerry Collins. "What he's done running the ball and catching the ball out of the backfield, I think, has really given our offense that guy we can go to."

It took time.

Barber was primarily a third-down back and return specialist in his first three seasons, but the need to get him the ball more became obvious right from the start of training camp.

"Coming into the season, we saw him as a guy whose role was changing. We wanted to make sure he touched the ball more and he became a focal point for what we did offensively," said Giants offensive coordinator Sean Payton. "There's no question in my mind that he's one of the reasons we've put ourselves in the position we're in now."

Numbers provide the proof: 1,006 yards on the ground, 719 more yards on 70 catches and 364 return yards (the majority of those on punts) added up to a franchise-best 2,089 all-purpose yards.

"There's been so much that has been attributed to my success this year that it's hard to pinpoint one. It's just like [it clicks] and you get it," Barber said.

Giants fullback Greg Comella said it's more than that with Barber.

"Tiki's had a tremendous amount of desire and a will to be successful as a football player," he said. "Whatever it is he's doing, he wants to be the best, be it football or his career in television or his relationship with his family and wife. The best way I can describe Tiki Barber is he's passionate about life."

Barber has been playing in the postseason with a broken bone in his left arm. The extra week has allowed it to further heal, and he plans to continue wearing a modified cast only for protective purposes.

"It's huge not having to think about the little nagging injuries, that you can just play," he said. "And in a game like this, where so much is being made about the defense we're going to face, you don't want to have to worry about your ankle hurting or your arm hurting. You just want to play."

With much of the media responsibilities out of the way and a comfort level of Super Bowl surroundings now set, Barber is looking forward to focusing more on just football from now until the big day.

So, with that in mind, how does Barber see the Giants, underdogs again, faring Sunday?

"I think people should just wait and see," Barber said smiling, "before you rush to judgment, wait and see."

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