By Jason Keidel
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In case you don't get the obscure literary reference in the title, it's a mutation of Rudyard Kipling's classic Jungle Books story about a mongoose named "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi."
The five-pound mongoose was rescued from near-death by a family in India. A boy found him half-drowned after a flood and the child's mother nursed him to health. Out of gratitude and love, Rikki guarded the house (and particularly the young boy who discovered the injured mammal) from predators, particularly snakes.
Enter Tiki Barber, who reminds you of Nag, the fictional cobra who approaches you as a pal only to strike when you least expect. And Barber's backbiting and resultant venom have infected a few, former pals with the old "NY" emblazoned on their helmet.
According to a recent report from The Associated Press, which obtained some quotes from a piece to be aired on HBO tomorrow, Barber speaks at length about his tumble down the totem pole, from iconic running back to well-paid pitchman, to a leading man on NBC's wildly successful "Today Show," to unemployed, unfaithful, divorced, destitute, and destroyed middle-aged man who is attempting a most daunting comeback into the NFL.
The next 36-year-old running back to light the league on fire will be the first.
Depression is not funny. It's not cute, contrived, or curable. My family is festooned with the disorder/disease. (I seem to have arbitrarily eluded the problem; my myriad defects take other forms.) But Barber has used depression as an appalling pretext for his abhorrent behavior. A depressed person will slouch on the couch for months on end (as he admitted he did.) It does not, however, lead already narcissistic stars to abandon their pregnant wife (8 months pregnant, in fact, with his twins) for a 23-year-old intern, and thus vaporizing his career with NBC, who was paying Barber $2 million per year to look pretty next to Matt Lauer.
Depression doesn't force you to announce your retirement from football in the middle of the season, blasting a formidable fissure into a team toiling for a playoff spot. (In a sweet slice of karma, the Giants won the Super Bowl Shortly after Barber bounced.) It doesn't move you to shove your coach – who saved your career by teaching you to properly hold a football and not literally fumble away your prime – under the team bus. It doesn't sharpen your teeth for the instant backstabbing behind a microphone, questioning Eli Manning's leadership qualities. (Did we mention that Eli won the Super Bowl without Barber, and actually won the Super Bowl MVP in the process?)
And where was this depression when Barber was in his prime, when he was dashing through holes and smashing team rushing records, when he was making millions of dollars? Some shrinks refer to "situational depression" which implies that, basically, we screw up and don't feel so hot about it. Sounds and smells like the work in the Barber shop.
This is a twisted form of foxhole prayer, a way to endear himself to a fan base that abandoned him, even booing him as he was inducted into the Giants' Ring of Honor, a highly incongruous scene for an appropriately conflicted man. Had Barber so much as flashed a good side he'd find New York a forgiving town. Just ask Doc and Darryl, who got clean, came clean, and even when they were once again devoured by their demons they found us waiting on the other side of the cell, cheering them on. It takes a special kind of jerk to lose us for good, and Barber has his doctorate in burning bridges.
Barber had the bona fides to be a star in any galaxy, from his looks to his presence to his intelligence to his oratory skills. Fumbling went from an on-field issue to societal scar tissue, a perfect metaphor for a self-absorbed creep who found time to blame everyone for his problems except himself.
"I crafted this career, right?" Barber said.
You sure did, Tiki. The bed is made and may you have a most restless sleep.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
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