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Original Issue

Free Speech

Out of uniform, Tiki Barber is talking up a storm

DURING HIS 10-year career as a New York Giants running back, Tiki Barber was adept at avoiding big hits. In his first few months as a burgeoning multimedia personality, however, Barber has been the one taking his best shots. He has been emboldened by the switch from power I to power tie and has gained a variety of forums from which to speak—news correspondent (NBC's Today Show), satellite radio show host (The Barber Shop on Sirius), studio analyst (NBC's Football Night in America). On Sept. 10 he added memoirist to his résumé with the publication of Tiki: My Life in the Game and Beyond.

In the book Barber, 32, comes across as the sort of opinionated straight shooter who could liven up an NFL pregame show. (Last season Barber called ESPN analyst Tom Jackson an "idiot" and sarcastically labeled Michael Irvin "the ultimate character guy.") He criticizes Giants coach Tom Coughlin for pushing players too hard in practice and for being a harsh disciplinarian. Barber goes so far as to say that he might still be in uniform if Coughlin hadn't taken the joy out of the game for him. It's not the only shot Barber has taken at his former team. Last month he called Giants quarterback Eli Manning's attempts at leadership last season "comical," sparking a brief war of words between them.

"[Barber has] proven he's willing to say anything about anybody," said NBC football analyst Cris Collinsworth. Alas, Barber has already fallen into a common trap for TV talking heads—backtracking from controversy. On NBC's first Sunday-night pregame show, before the Giants' game against the Cowboys, Barber adopted a more conciliatory tone, calling Coughlin "great for me" and praising the coach for teaching him "the minutiae of the game." Barber added, "I think that Tom Coughlin learned some things from guys like me."

Already Barber is a polished television presence, but it would help his career as a football analyst if he kept that smooth veneer from obscuring his candor.

TV Watch

IF YOU'RE convinced Michele Tafoya is sending secret messages in her sideline reports on Monday Night Football, you're not as crazy as your friends think. Two hours before kickoff each week, Tafoya (right) calls in to The Big Show, a sports talkfest on Los Angeles's KSPN-AM, so hosts Steve Mason and John Ireland can give her a word or phrase they want her to work into one of her on-air segments that night. On Sept. 10, when the Ravens and the oft-arrested Bengals were playing, the secret words were law and order; for a Cowboys game last year Tafoya had to say T.O. and the Big Tuna. If she succeeds, Mason or Ireland donates $100 to the Humane Society of Minnesota. "They make it sound so easy. 'Michele, just say it like this,'" she says. "But it's much harder when you're the sideline reporter than if you're doing play-by-play." Over the last three years Tafoya's covert communications have cost Mason and Ireland about $1,000 each, but she says she'll never compromise her reporting for the gag. How can non-KSPN listeners play along? "Listen for something that just seems a little unnecessary, a little unexpected, with a little smile behind it," Tafoya says. "And it's usually in the first or the last line of a report."





GIANT KILLER Barber ripped Coughlin (below) in his new book but backed off on TV.



[See caption above]