Neil Best leaves no stone unturned in the world of sports media.
Francesa vs. Tiki, vintage 2006
In light of what we now know about Tiki Barber's post-football career, and after Barber and his agent, Mark Lepselter, appeared on Mike Francesa's show Wednesday in an interview that turned contentious at times, check out the fascinating bit of reading below.
It's a column I wrote in October of 2006, when Barber's media future seemed bright, but Francesa and Chris Russo were having no part of it.
It wasn't my finest moment. There are some lines in it that make me look pretty bad 4.5 years later. But that's OK. I can take it.
Here goes, from deep in the Newsday.com archives:
"Beyond belief," Mark Lepselter said.
"They're clueless. I'll have the last laugh. I'll leave it at that."
That was early Wednesday afternoon, and no, Tiki Barber's agent didn't quite leave it at that.
He called several more times that day and twice yesterday, growing increasingly exasperated as several days of Tiki-bashing by Mike Francesa and later Chris Russo on WFAN came to a head.
Initially, Lepselter declined to comment at all. But frustrated by what he considered unfounded charges, he changed his mind - in a big way.
Let's be careful here. Lepselter defends Barber like a mother bear guarding a cub, as he did in speaking to Newsday's Johnette Howard this week after ESPN's Michael Irvin ripped Barber.
Objective, he ain't.
Still, his harsh reaction reflects how nutty the reaction to Barber's retirement plans has gotten, and how unfair it is to an athlete who after 10 years has earned the benefit of the doubt.
Early in the week, Francesa accused Barber of leaking the story and of doing so as a negotiating ploy. Lepselter vehemently denied both charges.
By Wednesday, the discussion had turned to Barber's prospects as a TV personality. Francesa and Russo noted how few retired athletes have succeeded,which is true, but their dismissive tone stood out.
Said Russo, "Tiki, I'm not that interested in what you're saying. Run the football ... You are what you are. Tiki, you're a running back."
Russo also inaccurately criticized Barber for not firing back at Irvin for calling him a "quitter" on ESPN. Barber did so Tuesday on his radio show, calling Irvin and fellow analyst Tom Jackson "idiots." (Jackson said on WFAN he found the "name-calling" to be "unnecessary.")
"The cynical side of me would say Chris would know a thing or two about people not paying attention to you on TV," Lepselter said. "And I can't tell if [Francesa] is jealous because he's just got a local show on Sunday nights at 11:30."
Later, he added, "Everyone who listens or knows Francesa knows he's a megalomaniac and the sidekick plays follow the leader. Fortunately for Tiki and me at this point in our careers and our lives, we pay zero attention to the Mike Francesas and Chris Russos of the world."
Francesa and Russo now are on the outs with three Giants with wildly disparate personalities - Barber, Michael Strahan and Jeremy Shockey - who represent eight of the team's past 10 Pro Bowl slots.
Strange. So is listening to two guys in a leaky basement in Astoria take shots at a player who has been an invited guest of George H.W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice and Shimon Peres. Barber is at ease meeting world leaders; Russo isn't at ease pronouncing their names.
Will Barber succeed on TV? Who knows? As Francesa said, not unfairly, "People forget in a hurry. The fascination with Tiki is Tiki is a very, very classy, very well- spoken football player. Once he is just classy and well-spoken, there's a million guys out there like that."
We checked with an actual expert on this, Bill Shine, Fox News Channel's senior VP of programming, who employs Barber part-time. He said Barber has vast potential because of his intelligence, personality, appearance and appeal to men, women and children.
"It all goes back to, he's smart and he prepares and he knows the things he's talking about, and if he does not know he asks questions," Shine said.
Yesterday morning, Lepselter bashed Francesa and Russo on the Miami radio show of Sid Rosenberg, another of his clients. Back in New York at 2:30 in the afternoon, the boys were at it again.
"Absurd," Francesa said of Lepselter's grand plans for Barber's media career.
"Insulting," Russo said.
Lepselter vowed to let it go. "They're not even worth my time anymore," he said. "It's comical."
Said Barber, in a statement via Lepselter, "I'm not going to waste my time talking about these guys, because what they say does not affect me in the present and it definitely will not affect me in the future."