Tiki Barber grins, bears boos at game

Updated: October 4, 2010, 2:49 AM ET
By Jane McManus | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tiki Barber expected the boos, and as New York Giants fans rained disapproval down on him he smiled and saluted the crowd before looking at Amani Toomer, who laughed with his former teammate.

This is what being a vocal critic of the team you played 10 years for will get you. Ending a marriage -- while your wife is pregnant with twins -- and pursuing a relationship with a much younger blonde doesn't help matters.

Barber and said blonde, Traci Johnson, had been sitting in the stands before the halftime induction ceremony for the Giants' Ring of Honor. Out of 30 Giants fans who approached him, only one had something negative to say:

"How come you're hating on the Giants?"

Since retiring after the 2006 season and working as a commentator and broadcaster, Barber's relationship with the Giants and his former fan base has been decidedly complicated.

[+] EnlargeTiki Barber
AP Photo/Kathy WillensTiki Barber was one of 30 men inducted into the Giants' Ring of Honor on Sunday night.

This is a base that cheered when Lawrence Taylor's name was announced during the ceremony, and he is currently facing charges of third-degree rape of a 16-year-old girl. But calling out your former coach, as Barber did, while the team struggles on offense? That is cold.

Barber said he didn't want to play it safe as a broadcaster, and he has always been honest.

"I danced that line for seven, eight years while I was actually playing the game," Barber said. "The reality is I stepped out of one job into another job and I take that responsibility seriously and I'm not going to sugarcoat things just because of my 10 years here. I have a job to do."

Could have been chance, but on the list of 30 inductees to the Giants' Ring of Honor on Sunday night, Barber was dead last.

Earlier on Sunday, former teammate Antonio Pierce (now with ESPN) called out Barber for a lack of leadership in his final season, and for being critical of head coach Tom Coughlin, who Pierce said made Barber a better back.

For Toomer, seeing Barber be the target of barbs isn't surprising.

"I think his true personality came out and that's just the type of person he is and I know he believes everything he says," Toomer said. "Knowing Tiki the way I do, nothing really surprised me about what came out afterwards in terms of what he said about the organization and stuff, because he had some issues with people. But I think he definitely deserves to be in the ring because of what he did on the field."

Barber agrees with Toomer that his production in some ways cloaked the pricklier aspects of his personality while he played. Barber leads the team in career rushing yards (10,449) and attempts (2,217). He had 38 career 100-yard games, and nine in 2004.

Fellow inductee Michael Strahan said Barber may not have put things as delicately as he would have hoped, but doesn't seem to bear a grudge.

"But he's his own man, he can do what he wants to do," said Strahan. "I wish him the best, I hope everything works out. He deserves to be honored. He has a lot of records here and that's a testament to his desire and intensity. He's a Giant, he's a Giant for life."

Which may be why Barber decided to come out for the ceremony, despite the inevitability of the boos. When you say unpopular things you have to expect a reaction, but in many ways Giants fans are tied to Barber whether they like it right now or not. Even if Barber decides he wants to throw himself as totally into criticism as he once did into linebackers.

"I wanted to be known for the merits of my work, not the magnitude of my name," Barber said. "You take it as it comes, you live and you learn and you try to be true to yourself."

Jane McManus is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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Jane McManus has covered New York sports since 1998 and began covering football just before Brett Favre's stint with the Jets. Her work has appeared in Newsday, USA Today, The Journal News and The New York Times. Follow Jane on Twitter.

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