HONOLULU -- Tiki Barber knew the moment would come. He just didn't know it would go down quite like this.
As the sun set on Aloha Stadium following Saturday afternoon's Pro Bowl contest, the curtains officially came down on the illustrious 10-year career of the 31-year-old running back. Though Barber played his final game for the Giants in January, he knew he had to leave just a bit in the tank for the NFL's all-star game.
"It really didn't hit me until right after I scored my touchdown," Barber said of his second-quarter scamper from the 1-yard line. "I got stopped for a 2-yard gain on the play before, but coach [Sean] Payton kept calling my number and, eventually, I got in that end zone one last time."
Finally, it was over.
"When I crossed that goal line, that's when I shut it down in my mind," he explained. "I was like, 'All right, I got my Pro Bowl touchdown and that's great, but that's it. I'm done.'"
Maybe someone should have told Payton. The Saints coach and skipper of this year's NFC squad would call Barber's number later in the second half, resulting in several carries and one unexpected ceremonial right of passage. Barber received a rousing standing ovation from the crowd and fellow players when a video tribute to his career was shown on the scoreboard during a timeout with 1:58 to play.
"Man, I wasn't expecting that at all," he said, his smile widening. "It was really great to see that they appreciate my body of work as an athlete, who I've become. That was fun, something I'll always remember."
"But it's finally time to turn the page," he continued. "The next stage of my life is fast approaching."
Barber says the details of that next stage will come when he makes his official retirement announcement later this week. During that announcement, he'll unveil just how, exactly, he plans to parlay his playing career into a lucrative deal with a broadcast network.
In January, Barber notified ABC/ESPN (thought to have the inside track on acquiring Barber's on-screen talents) and Fox (he regularly appeared on Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends") that he would begin negotiating with NBC exclusively. It is believed that Barber will serve as a reporter for the latter's nightly news program "Dateline," join its top-rated morning show "Today" as a host during it's newly announced "fourth hour" of programming dealing in lifestyle and entertainment and, of course, draw from his playing career as an NBC Sports football analyst.
"We just have a few small details to shore up," Barber said. "But we're very close to finalizing the deal."
Beyond his on-screen plans, Barber is currently penning his memoir "Tiki," due in September, and planning a third- -- and what may be final -- installment in his children's book series, co-authored by his brother, NFC Pro Bowl teammate Ronde Barber. Both books will be published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment, a division of Simon & Schuster.
But first, Barber will bask a little longer in the Hawaiian sun with his family, including his two young sons, A.J. and Chason, and his wife Ginny, while milking the remainder of an almost all-expenses-paid weekend, courtesy of the NFL.
"This is like a retirement party and family vacation, but free," he says. "I'm just going to enjoy the last few moments of my last vacation before I start my real job."
That vacation included garnering much love from his fellow Pro Bowlers, including his longtime friend Peyton Manning, who found Barber in the postgame melee to share in a warm embrace.
"It was pretty cool for Peyton to find me and congratulate me and thank me for my career," he said. "His wife and I went to school together, so we've known each other for a while, and to see how we've evolved as athletes and helped contribute to the history of the game, it's really become a special moment for me."
The moment, Barber says, does not include an inkling of regret for leaving the game while still in his prime, following a season where he rushed for 1,662 yards -- the second-highest total of his career.
While Barber is confident he still possesses the ability to play at a high level for several more years, don't expect one final encore. The proverbial itch has, indeed, been scratched.
"Oh yeah, the itch is completely gone," he said with a laugh. "Football has taken a toll on me mentally and physically, and I'm ready for a new challenge. I'm not sad that it's over. I'm just happy that it's ended the way it did.
"It's been a perfect day."
With his bags packed, Barber stole one last fleeting glimpse of the field, then exited the stadium, heading into the Hawaiian sunset, leaving the perfect day for the promise of a better tomorrow.
One in which a new star, it seems, will be born.
Sam Alipour is based in Los Angeles. His Media Blitz column appears in ESPN The Magazine and regularly on Page 2. You can reach him at Sam.Alipour@gmail.com.