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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Tiki Barber should've taken shot with Bucs while it lasted



You might have heard the rumblings in recent months that former Giants running back Tiki Barber is plotting a return to the NFL after sitting out four seasons, with an eye toward Tampa Bay as a destination.

There is nothing to indicate the Bucs are remotely interested. Instead, we bring this up because it turns out that Tiki -- Ronde's twin brother -- reportedly had a offer from former coach Jon Gruden to join the Bucs in 2007, his first year in retirement. The story comes via Ian O'Connor of ESPN New York.

Gruden offering a veteran player a spot on his roster was so common in his tenure it's akin to saying water is wet. But this would've been different. Gruden, the story says, turned on the charm and really pushed hard for Tiki to sign, particularly because the Bucs' backfield had just been devastated by injuries to Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman.

An excerpt from the story:

"When (Gruden) phoned Barber's agent, Mark Lepselter, Gruden began recruiting Barber with more overcaffeinated passion than he shows during his QB Camp on ESPN.

Gruden, Bucs GM Bruce Allen, Tiki and Ronde Barber, and Lepselter met in a Tampa hotel suite. They talked football and drank a little tequila. Gruden came on strong, telling Barber that Tampa needed him to make a playoff run and that he could take three weeks to get back into shape before playing the second half of the season.

Ronde was all for it, and so was Lepselter, who didn't like the early vibe he was getting from his client's first months as a broadcaster.

The agent also knew Barber's criticisms of Coughlin and Manning had caused irreparable damage to his relationship with the Giants, and he figured a quick return to an NFL backfield would stanch the bleeding.

"I was pushing for it hard," Lepselter said, "because I already knew things weren't going in the right direction for Tiki."

At the close of the 90-minute meeting, Barber declared he would indeed become a Buc. The parties embraced and exchanged handshakes. Allen would speak of contacting the Giants to offer compensation for Barber's services, and Lepselter and his client flew back to New York and a brave not-so-new world."

By the time they landed, Tiki began reconsidering and ultimately changed his mind. Part of his reasoning, he said, was his fear that he would tarnish his Giants legacy after 10 years with the team. Of course, the irony is that the Bucs advanced to the playoffs that season and hosted the Giants in a wildcard matchup. Had Tiki taken Gruden up on his offer, he'd have lined up against his former teammates -- who, by the way, ended up winning the Super Bowl that season.

None of this matters now, but it's a very interesting "what-if" tale that might have had a significant impact on that 2007 season.

[Last modified: Friday, April 22, 2011 3:50pm]


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