SportsBeyond the Roster


Tiki Barber leans on mom's advice: 'Embrace failure. Understand it. Learn from it. Keep growing.'

Posted at 11:15 AM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-13 23:36:45-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Former University of Virginia and National Football League running back Tiki Barber will help host the inaugural RVA Sports Awards in February. Over the years, Barber went from being a smalltown Virginia star to a star in the Big Apple.

The three-time New York Giants MVP was voted NFL Player of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 2005.

But it was a different honor that first gave him the notion he might be pretty good at football.

As a student at Cave Spring High, the Roanoke Times named Barber the Male Athlete of the Year in both his junior and senior seasons.

"It was a sense of accomplishment and achievement that made me feel bigger than just a little town in southwest Virginia," Barder said. "The Timesland was a big area and to be the player of the year, made me feel like football is going to take me somewhere."

Tiki Barber 01.png
Tiki Barber

Tiki and his twin brother Ronde matriculated to the University of Virginia where each blossomed into All-ACC talent.

But UVA wasn't their first or second school of choice.

They were headed to Penn State until the coach recruiting them left for another job. Then they thought about Michigan, but a snowstorm canceled their official visit. They took that as a Sign that they should follow a different path.

"I do believe things happen for a reason," Barder said. "Coach Caldwell left so we wouldn't end up in Happy Valley, got snowed out at Michigan where we would have gotten lost in a student population of 40,000 up in Ann Arbor. We found the perfect destination for ourselves at Virginia under Coach Welsh. It was great for us academically, great for us socially and obviously athletically as well."

Tiki was a second-round draft pick of the New York Giants in 1997. The thrill of making it to the highest level of the game was tempered greatly by the daunting reality of playing in the biggest city in the country.

Hall of Fame Preview Football
New York Giants' Tiki Barber eludes Philadelphia Eagles' Brian Dawkins on his way to a touchdown in the first quarter during NFL football game action in East Rutherford, N.J. on Dec. 17, 2006.

"I was terrified when I got drafted by the Giants simply because I had no idea what to expect," Barber said. "I had been to New York, maybe twice in my life. I remember always being intimidated by it."

The once shy high school student reached back on the experience of being a media favorite in Charlottesville because of his performance and his ability to express himself.

"They wanted to talk to us, so it kind of brought us out of our shell," he said. "Once I got drafted to New York and realized that football could be up one year down the next year, I started to look for other opportunities. Because I lived in New York City, media became the obvious one."

Barber credited a move to New York's Upper Eastside as a catalyst for his assimilation into the Big Apple lifestyle. And even though he was in the media capital of the country, he still relied on his roots to make connections away from the field.

Tiki Barber, Traci Lynn Johnson
Tiki Barber and Traci Lynn Johnson attend a special screening of 'Our Idiot Brother' Hosted by the Cinema Society at MiMA Tower on Monday, Aug. 22, 2011 in New York.

"I think I adapted over time so well because I did that. I didn't shy away from it and think of it as this behemoth across the river. Instead, I put myself squarely in the middle of it and learned to love it," he said. "I'm a relationship guy, that comes from being a Virginian, and applying that to a big city has worked out for me."

After walking away from the NFL on his own terms, Barber carved out a career in both television and radio. He has worked for NBC, CBS, and Fox.

It wasn't his aspiration when he began playing football, but he has kept the advice of his mother at the forefront of everything he's done.

"Everybody has a dream of what they want to do," he said. "Sometimes you're going to take steps to fulfill that dream and you're going to have lots of success, but often, there's going to be failure. The message that I try to tell kids. Because I experienced this a lot, is to embrace failure and understand it, learn from it, and keep growing from it. And as my mom used to tell me, you never really fail until you stop trying."

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