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Barber's HBO interview sheds light on comeback attempt

  • By NFL.com Wire Reports
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Tiki Barber says failures off the field after his retirement from football in 2006 led to a yearlong bout with depression.

The 36-year-old Barber, the New York Giants' career leading rusher, made the admission to Armen Keteyian of HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," acknowledging that he now needs football more than it needs him.

"The game never needs you because there's always someone else to come and take your place," he said. "But right now, I need the game."

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Barber has spent the past four months working out in an attempt to make a comeback, although his chances rest on the league and its players reaching a new collective bargaining agreement.

He said football represents a necessary anchor in a life turned upside down by the depressive aftermath of scandalous divorce and disintegration of his television career.

The Associated Press attempted to telephone Barber, but his old cell phone number now leaves a message saying the person who has the number is not available.

"I need to prove to myself that I can be successful at something," he told HBO. "I know I'm going to be successful as a football player. I don't know why. The odds say 'No.' I'm 36 and I haven't played in four years. But I just know."

The report recounts the downward spiral Barber's life took shortly after his retirement. What started as a promising career as an NBC football analyst ended in his firing. His marriage to his college sweetheart collapsed. And his relationship with a 23-year-old NBC intern which continues today soiled a well-honed, family man image.

Barber said he was unable to deal with losing his $2 million per year job, which started as a football analyst for "Football Night in America" and progressed to a featured role on the "Today" Show. Rumored to be a potential long-range candidate to replace co-host Matt Lauer upon his retirement, Barber instead found the role challenging -- especially interviewing guests.

"Once you sit down, you have to nail it," Barber said, according to according to profootballtalk.com, which received an advance copy of the show. "You have to connect with the subject. That's a skill set that I had never used or worked on. I tried my best. I really did."

When Keteyian shared with Barber that some personnel at NBC saw Barber as "entitled" and "too cool for school," Barber responded, "I would be interested to hear someone say that to my face."

But his demotion to on-field duties and, eventually, to unemployment, led to depression.

"I crafted this career, right?" he said. "And I had gotten to the point where I was right where I wanted to be and then I failed. It's hard to deal with."

Barber said after his job at NBC ended, he didn't do anything for a solid year.

"I remember there were days where I would literally wake up, have coffee, get something to eat and sit on the couch and do nothing for 10 hours," he said. "I started to shrivel. I didn't have that confidence. I didn't have the, that aura anymore."

Barber said his marriage actually started to crack six months after he ended his 10-year playing career.

His well-honed image as all-around good guy would take a huge hit when moved in with Tracy Lynn Johnson while his wife was pregnant with twins.

The story that hit the tabloids painted him as an adulterer, though Barber said he and his wife had separated before he accelerated his relationship with Tracy.

"I was in a bad marriage," Barber said in the interview. "It was in trouble for a long time. And we decided to get separated. But Ginny got pregnant in the middle of it. And a lot of people think children save marriages; sometimes it makes it worse. And we split soon after she was pregnant.

"And I was on my own for a few days, and then I moved in with Tracy. And then, five months later, here comes the New York Post stalking me."

Barber said he never second-guesses his relationship with his girlfriend.

"NBC, marriage. I mean, the only thing that felt right was Tracy," Barber said. "It was the only thing that made me not really feel depressed."

The cycle broke around the time of the Super Bowl in Dallas in February, when friends and former coaches encouraged him to try a comeback.

Barber appears to be taking his return to football seriously. When the 36-year-old running back began working out in March, he texted his agent, Mark Lepselter, saying: "I'm on a (expletive) mission of redemption."

Keteyian reportedly asked Barber if his up-and-down fortunes since retiring from the game amounted to a self-destructive streak aimed at starting from scratch.

"That's an interesting way to put it," Barber said. "Maybe subconsciously."

Now, as he tries to rebuild his image through football, he endures daily workouts at New Jersey strongman Joe Carini's gym.

"There's a lot of coaches who I both have played against and played for who I think know what I'm about," Barber said. "And that gives me the belief that this opportunity is for real. And not only am I going to be on a team, I'm going to be a big part of a team."

The full interview is scheduled to air June 21, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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