Tiki Barber looked at his phone again. He sometimes turns the ringer off and doesn’t feel the vibrate function when he wears loose athletic shorts, as he wore today.
But no: the ringer was on. No new calls.
Everywhere else, the September air was warm with possibility and the remnants of summer, but all Tiki felt was the chill underneath it. Something in the breeze made him wish he were wearing a sweatshirt — a hint of moisture in the air, maybe, or a lone thread of woodsmoke from a barbecue to which he wasn’t invited. He rubbed the sudden goosebumps from his arms, turned his back on the waning summer, and walked inside. There was nothing to do outside but be alone.
It was not always like this. Barber left professional sports at the top of his game, just like Michael Jordan did the first two times. Except the winning championships thing. And the team immediately won a championship without him after he questioned the quarterback’s leadership abilities. So nothing like Jordan, but whatever, the point is he has a great smile. And he’s so articulate! Surely his broadcasting career would be a massive success, a lifetime of fame he could enjoy without being hobbled by pro football’s brutality.
In the end, he was done in by his own magnetic personality. That ten-megawatt smile charmed an NBC intern named Traci Johnson, a cute young blonde who showed up to work smelling nice and wearing sexy outfits at a time when Barber’s wife of more than a decade, Ginny, was pregnant with twin girls. How could he NOT leave his wife and four children for a younger blonde woman? Barber couldn’t be bound by expectations; he can only follow his heart.
It was his heart that led him in March to file papers with the NFL to come out of retirement. The NFL strutted by like a blonde intern, and Barber knew he had something left to give — speed in his legs, strength in his 36-year-old body, the leadership inherent of a handsome person. He had heart.
And no NFL team had the brains to see that.