When you're in Southern California in July, thoughts turn to palm trees, great beaches, beautiful TV stars and football. All right, they only turned to football because NBC brought its Sunday Night Football team.
The team's newest member is Tiki Barber, the former New York Giant whose plan to retire to pursue a TV career leaked early last season. I discovered that he knows the famous retirement quote by Bills General Manager Marv Levy pretty well.
"He said, 'when you start talking about retirement, you're already retired,' " Barber said before disputing Levy.
"[Levy] certainly wasn't right because I had my second best year of my career and my best game as a football player in my last game of my career [234 yards rushing] against Washington," Barber said. "I think it is a responsibility thing."
The three-time Pro Bowler believes the leak about his retirement made him more determined to play harder.
"Honestly, I wanted to be [Pittsburgh's] Jerome Bettis," the 32-year-old Barber said. "I wanted to win a Super Bowl and retire. I did all I could to do that and I think they all recognized that."
The leak also taught him a journalism lesson. He said a New York reporter, following around him and his twin brother, Ronde, for a story, overheard enough telephone conversations to realize Tiki was playing his last season. "He said, 'think I have to report this,' " Barber said. "I said, 'I'd rather you not, but I understand your job.' "
He knew he had made the right call early last season when he had to get massage treatment, chiropractic treatment, acupuncture treatment and some special treatment for his muscles for five days.
"I said if I have to get work done five days a week, I don't need to be doing this any more."
The toll on his body made him question whether he'd be able to play with his two young children when he got older. Barber's injury summary makes him more sensitive to the issue involving medical care for older retired players who don't have health insurance and can't support themselves.
"The problem now with current players is, when you are five years in, you are not thinking about 15 years from now when you potentially have to get a knee replacement," Barber said. "I think with the added press, younger players will start saying 'you know what? In five years, that could be me.' "
And not everybody gets to retire to a job in broadcasting the way Barber and NBC teammates Bettis and the outspoken Cris Collinsworth did. Speaking of Collinsworth, he is concerned about the Bills losing linebackers London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes, whom he calls charismatic leaders, and cornerback Nate Clements. He believes Marshawn Lynch is a better receiver than Willis McGahee and a talented runner. But . . .
"I think the Patriots are going to win the whole thing. I think the Dolphins, the Jets and the Bills are going to make up the most talented division in football. I really think you're going to see a big jump with J.P. Losman again. Lee Evans is tremendous. I don't know if you can see Marshawn and those new defenders in their first year being able to compete with those guys."
Collinsworth didn't hold back when asked about the indictment of Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick on charges of being involved in a dogfighting ring.
"If they did what I've been reading about -- the way they killed the dogs, choking them, drowning them and he was a direct contributor to that -- I hope he is not in the National Football League," Collinsworth said. "It is grotesque. . . . I hope that that is not true and he is found innocent. I think everybody deserves a fair trial and a day in court and I'll stand behind him 100 percent. But if he's convicted, there is no punishment in my mind that would be too severe."
While Vick is widely viewed as one of the league's marquee players, Dick Ebersol, the head of NBC Sports, downplayed the ratings impact if Vick doesn't play this season. Ebersol said that NBC didn't ask for Atlanta for its schedule.
"Almost without exception, the teams that are a big draw are the teams that have a tradition of winning," said Ebersol, pointing to Indianapolis and quarterback Peyton Manning. "All of the networks want to max themselves out on Indianapolis. That hasn't been true of Atlanta for a couple of seasons because they haven't been a winning team, Vick or no Vick."