Jeff Pearlman

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Ronald Modra

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Back when I used to work for Sports Illustrated, a special bond existed between the magazine’s writers and photographers.

One, because we traveled together, ate together, worked together. It was a very collaborative process. If you were writing, say, an Alfonso Soriano piece, you’d make sure the shooter knew exactly what you were thinking, where you were headed.

Two, because we needed each other.

Three, because we knew how special this thing was. At the time, working for SI felt like being a part of the Dream Team. You were surrounded by extraordinarily talented people, facing extremely high expectations, writing and photographing for an enormous audience in the shadow of many of the medium’s legends.

It was at this point in my life when I often found myself alongside Ronald Modra.

Ron spent 23 years at the magazine, shooting 70 covers and countless images you’d almost certainly recognize. His ability to capture moments oozed from the pages; his relationships with players jumped from his portraits. For me, though, Ron was simply a really cool, really humble guy whose professionalism and decency served as examples how to go about this business the right way.

Anyhow, not only is Ron the 208th Quaz, he’s also the author of a new book, A Baseball Life, that showcases the best images from a spectacular career. One can visit Ron at his website here, or on Facebook and Twitter. Here, he recalls David Justice-Halle Berry weirdness, Barry Bonds churlishness and what it was like working for SI in its glory era.

Ron Modra, step up. You’re the new Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Ron, so I’ve known you for many years, have worked with you many times. It’s great having you here. Opening question—give me your biggest someone-treated-me-like-a-jerk photography story from your career. Oh, and it can’t include Barry Bonds.

RONALD MODRA: That’s easy—David Justice. Back in 1995 I was assigned to do a story about Justice, who was playing for the Atlanta Braves. I thought it was going to be a quick feature that would take a couple of days, but Justice was running me around in circles so the assignment stretched out over several weeks. I was in constant contact with both him and his agent and getting the total runaround. We can do it tomorrow, we can’t do it tomorrow … all the action and the photographs at the stadium pretty much took care of themselves but the managing editor said the most important picture was of Justice and his then-wife, Halle Berry. The magazine also wanted a picture of Justice with his mom. He finally agreed to do that picture one day after a game and when I caught up the two of them, his mom knew nothing about the shoot. He didn’t bother to tell her so she had no time to get her hair done (as she said) or wear something nice (as she said to her son).

The magazine continued to delay the story so we could try to get a shot of Justice and Halle. I followed the team to Pittsburgh where I met with Justice and suggested (with approval from SI) that he and I fly together—on a Lear jet—on the off day to the location where Halle was filming the Flintstones movie. The magazine offered to put the two of them up in any hotel they chose, all expenses paid. He’d get to see his wife and I’d get my picture. Justice’s answer? “I don’t want to be doing that shit on my day off.”

A week or so later we were back in Atlanta. After a lot of back and forth with his agent, we finally set up a shoot with him and Halle at their home. It was a summer day and incredibly hot. Probably 90 degrees with humidity to match when my assistant, Justice’s agent and I knocked on the door. Justice opened the door and let the agent inside. My assistant and I went to the back patio to set up. We waited. And waited. No water. No update from inside.

An hour and a half later, Justice and Halle came out. When he saw the lights we set up he started to pitch a fit. “What’s this? It’s like a major shoot!” By then I’d had enough. I was standing on a crate so I was almost as tall as he was. I said, “David, I told you this is the most important picture.” Then I turned to Halle and said, “The magazine offered to fly him out to your set the other week. Did he tell you that?” Halle gave Justice a pretty cold look and Justice gave me a really nasty look.

I showed Halle the little sketch I made of the picture I wanted and said, “Halle, you’re an actress and a model. I know you can do this. Make this work and I’ll be out of here in five minutes.”

The picture was well received at the magazine, a great shot of a couple in love. (They were divorced less than a year later).

J.P.: It strikes me that technology has changed the way people take photos, but also the way photographers are valued—or perhaps not valued. One can do 1,001 things with an iPhone. Film is no longer in play. Etc … etc. So I ask you—why, in 2015, do we need professional photographers? What can people like yourself do that some schlub like myself can’t?

R.M.: There’s no question that technology has really changed the photojournalism business. Our craft is definitely not as valued as it once was. But value still comes into play. You have to have an eye for composition and still, when it comes to sports photography, be able to anticipate the action. Schlubs like you should put your phones away during the game.

Although, I have to admit, the technology is amazing. More people than ever are shooting pictures because of it and some of the stuff is really good.

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With Rich (Goose) Gossage and Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez at Spring Training.

J.P.: You did a lot of work with Brooks & Dunn. I’m wondering what goes into shooting an album cover. Are there certain things you’re trying to express? Certain approaches that work? And how would you compare working with singers vs. athletes?

R.M.: There’s really no difference between shooting an album cover and shooting a Sports Illustrated cover except, most of the time, if you’re hired to shoot an album cover you have more time with the artists than you would with the athletes. They and/or their record label want to have input and often help create the concept. Also, performers want to look good so they usually take time with you. Their images are more important to them than most athletes. Singers are all pretty good looking—it’s hard to screw up when your subject is Martina McBride. When it comes to athletes, hey, we’re not miracle workers.

Shooting album covers, in my experience, is less stressful than shooting SI covers. And most of the singers I’ve worked with enjoy photo shoots so it’s a lot of fun.

J.P.: I know your professional history, but I don’t know your history. When did you first know you wanted to take pictures? Was there a light bulb moment? When did you realize you were talented? Like, really talented.

R.M.: I’ve never viewed myself as being exceptionally talented. Although I do think I can do better than most people shooting with an iPhone. I guess the light bulb moment came when a legendary SI photographer named Herb Scharfman came to Milwaukee in the mid-70s when I was Brewers team photographer. He looked at my portfolio and was so encouraging. That’s the first time I thought, “Hmm … maybe I can do this.”

Alongside Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks.

Alongside Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks.

J.P.: OK, I give in. Please tell us the Barry Bonds cable car story. It’s just so friggin’ good …

R.M.: In 1994 Bonds was the subject of an SI cover story after he left Pittsburgh and went to San Francisco. We needed an image that said “San Francisco” without using the Golden Gate Bridge. We decided to use the cable car barn. The folks there were great; they even took the  No. 25 car (25 was Bonds’ number) off line for the shoot.

My assistant and I spent several hours lighting the set for our noon appointment. Bonds was a no show and at 3:30 we struck the set and left for Candlestick Park for the game. Bonds was Bonds, he gave no real reason for not showing up but said, “No problem” for the next day. Up early, we set up again and at noon, Bob Rose, the Giants PR director called to tell us Bonds was on the way. Once again Bonds was a no show.

We set up again a third time. At this point I’m not sure what the cable car people thought of us. I went to the ballpark, found Bonds and asked him, “Are we doing this or not?”

The Giants wanted it. I wanted it. Barry said, “Yeah, lets do it.” The problem was the Giants were leaving on a 10-day road trip. As I was leaving the clubhouse, Willie McGee jokingly said I could use his apartment until the team got back. He even offered me his keys.

So I flew home to New York and met with the editors who told me to give it one more shot. Once again, I packed up all the gear and went back to San Francisco. Another morning of set up. Barry never came. I went into the clubhouse later that afternoon before the game where he was talking to his godfather, Willie Mays. Bonds looked at me and said, “You’ll just have to live with it, dude.”

I never got my portrait. The magazine ran a candid shot of Bonds leaning against his bat with the headline, I’M BARRY BONDS, AND YOU’RE NOT.

One of my all-time favorite Modra shots: Texas Rangers Jim Kern, photographed at Milwaukee County Stadium.

One of my all-time favorite Modra shots: Texas Rangers Jim Kern, photographed at Milwaukee County Stadium.

J.P.: Recently Sports Illustrated laid off all of the magazine’s staff photographers. How did this make you feel? What were your thoughts? And can an argument be made, with so many shooters out there and so many wire services, that, perhaps, staff photographers just aren’t needed?

R.M.: I felt awful. But the handwriting was on the wall for years. We’re in a digital age. Years ago, we stopped having to do things like bring the film back to New York after a game or ship the film. Our roles lessened. The magazine is no different than other media outlets these days. It doesn’t make sense economically to have so many people on staff. But it’s still really, really sad.

J.P.: What’s it like shooting a big event? Like, what’s your setup, your approach? And how do you know—absolutely know—you’ve nailed a great shot? And what does that feel like?  

R.M.: I loved big events. I mean, just to be part of it was great. Who wouldn’t want to be shooting the World Series or Super Bowl? I didn’t plan any differently than shooting a regular assignment. The one time I felt I really nailed it was the 1983 Super Bowl, when I spent three quarters without one decent play coming in my direction and then John Riggins broke the 43-yard run right at me. I felt great! Walter Iooss told John Iacono at the time, “I think Ron just got the cover!”—and I did.

J.P.: I live with a pretty chronic fear of death. Not death, per se, but the eternal nothingness that follows. Why aren’t more people concerned by this? Are you? 

R.M.: No.

About to be eaten by the Road Warriors.

About to be eaten by the Road Warriors.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest? 

R.M.: I think the greatest moment is getting your first cover. I can remember mine like it was yesterday: Detroit Lion Billy Sims. I can still see it in my mind’s eye: It was an overcast rainy day at Milwaukee County Stadium. I was working with John Iacono and Heinz Kluetmeier and to come away with the cover, well, there was no greater feeling.

I have to say there were not a lot of low points but one for me was in 1984. I had traveled pretty much around the world for a couple months photographing Olympic athletes who had been affected by the 1980 boycott but were gold medal contenders again four years later. Just after I completed the assignment, the Russians boycotted the Olympics and the magazine killed the essay because they felt it was no longer relevant. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great assignment. But I was very disappointed it never ran.

J.P.: You shot for SI during a glorious time in American magazines. So what was it like, in its heyday, being an SI photographer? I’m talking soup to nuts—travel, perks, the ballpark, the feel. At its absolute best …

R.M.: It was the very best. The best hotels, Beverly Hills Hotel, The Four Seasons—Jesus—I   once stayed at the Don Cesar on St. Pete Beach for a month while covering Spring Training in Florida. I once flew back from Paris on the Concord to bring back the film from the Tour de France (which made my friend, the great writer Ed Swift, very unhappy).

We had an equipment allowance and pretty much an unlimited expense account. I was able to travel and do and see things I only dreamed about. China, Russia, Cuba. It was an incredible time working with people like Frank DeFord, Ed Swift, Ron Fimrite, Steve Wulf, Curry Kirkpatrick, Dan Jenkins and Gary Smith. We worked as a team trying to put the best possible story together, with pictures and words. It was a time when it really meant something to work for Sports Illustrated. I’m very honored to have been a part of it.

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• Five greatest sports photographers or your lifetime?: In no order, Hy Peskin, Johnny Iacono, Walter Iooss, John Dominis, John Zimmerman. And, for a bonus, John and Vern Biever

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Phil Garner, Queen Latifah, Rihanna, John Jefferson, 1983 San Diego Padres uniforms, Barack Obama, Tanya Tucker, iced coffee with lots of milk and sugar, Abbey Road, your eyebrows: Abbey Road, iced coffee, eyebrows, Padres uniform, Phil Garner, John Jefferson, Barack Obama, Tanya Tucker, Queen Latifah, Rihanna.

• The next president will be … : Dave, as played by Kevin Kline. I thought he had some great ideas about the national budget in the movie.

• The most handsome baseball player you’ve ever photographed was …: Buddy Bianaclana

• Three memories from your senior prom: None. The date fell on the same day as the opening of duck hunting season in Wisconsin.

• What’s your dream camera?: Right now I’m using a Nikon D4s.

• In exactly 16 words, make an argument for Tupac: No real argument, I was a Tupac a day smoker in the Army, developed a bad cough so I quit.

• Would you rather live until 350 or 75?: No real age. As long as I have my health and there is rubber on the tires I’ll keep a go’in.

• We give you 100 at-bats in a Division III softball season right now. What’s your stat line?: Shitty

• Your best memory of the great V.J. Lovero …: Not only was he a kind soul but he rocked khaki’s long before Jim Harbaugh thought of it.

The question that needed to be asked about Steph Curry

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A couple of days ago, after Steph Curry brought his daughter to the podium after a Warriors win over Houston, several media members griped that the Golden State superstar had violated some protocol; that he should have taken the experience more seriously.

Um, yeah.

In case you missed it, earlier tonight Curry suffered a hard-to-watch tumble during Game 4 of the series. It was REALLY bad, and he left the game for a long stretch before returning as his team lost. Afterward, ESPN televised the post-game press conferences, which featured Curry, then some Houston players.

What was there: Lots of cliched, bullshit questions.

What was missing: The question that needed to be asked.

Specifically, it was a question that needed to be asked to James Harden, the Rockets star who took inquiries after Curry was done. I knew it wouldn’t be asked, because good questions rarely come in these sessions. But … still. I wanted to hear it.

Namely: “James, throughout the history of the NBA, players have talked about their need to win a title. Guys have said they’d kill for it; they’d dunk over their mothers, etc. It’s about money, prestige, glory. So, I have to ask, when Steph left the game, was there any part of you that felt, well, happy? Or relieved? I mean, it couldn’t hurt your team having the MVP out. And, along those lines, was there a part of you that was pissed off when he returned?”

So why is this important? Mainly, because it cuts through all the cliched bullshit and gets to the raw emotion that is often hidden behind cannon-fired T-shirts and loud music and half-naked dancers. There’s a rawness to pro sports; a kill-or-be-killed brutality that exists in, oh, 90 percent of players. I am convinced most (if not all) of the Rockets were thrilled when Curry left, because it opened up possibilities. Hell, if he’s out for a long stretch, it has the potential to change the series.

So how did the Rockets feel? Did they smell blood?

Alas, we’ll never know. Because nobody bothered to ask.

My brother travels the world

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So a few months ago my brother let it slip that he was planning on quitting his job as a Carnival Cruises sales associate to take six months and travel the world.

My mother, being a mother, was not happy.

My father, being a father, was cautiously cautious.

I was friggin’ thrilled.

My brother’s name is David. He’s two years older than I am, and lives in South Florida. We’re not overly close, though he’s been a terrific uncle to my kids and I feel like our relationship has improved with age.

Anyhow, he worked at Carnival for more than a decade, is smart with his money and wanted to see the world. To which I say—Hells yeah! Life goes by fast. Really fast. Yesterday we were kids, sitting in front of the TV watching Silver Spoons and eating Vanilla Wafers. Today we’re in our 40s, and heading quickly to our 50s. Then 60s. Then … glub. So why not go for it?

This is a long way of saying that: A. I’m incredibly proud of David; B. He’s writing a daily travel blog that I’m absolutely loving. It’s short and quick and has the bite of his humor. Some of the stuff is riveting (“This morning in bed I was sort of rethinking the intelligence of the pub crawl, as my head was pounding and every negative thought came pounding into my mind. BTW, I still have the bracelet on from last night-the leader said it is good for tonight’s crawl too—if my headache goes away I may check it out.”), some cringe worthy (“I met my three roomates—all college age girls from Ottawa, Canada. I told them my girlfriend lived in Montreal—but informed them that to ignore that, they we’re allowed to attack me in the night if they wanted to. They really didn’t laugh. Maybe sexual humor is taboo is a hostile.”)—but all is honest and pure and in the moment.

In other words, I living through my older brother. And digging it.

Shirt loyalty

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I am a shirt loyalist.

This makes no real sense, because shirts are inanimate objects, and inanimate objects are incapable of displaying love, affection, heart, spirit and/or loyalty. Still, I am a shirt loyalist. If a shirt does me well, or has some sort of unique back story, I’m sticking with him. Eh, her. Eh, it.

Yeah, it.

For example, the shirt pictured above. The year was, I believe, 2000. I was in Oakland for some story about the A’s. I approached a local thrift store, wooed by its irresistible charms. Once inside, I headed straight for the T-shirts—all $3, $4 a pop. This is the one that called me. Why? Because it had all had the proper ingredients:

• Wording that meant nothing to me. I don’t know what GSB Sun is, and I don’t particularly care.

• A tiny blood stain, as small as half a penny.

• Thin material and perfect fitting.

• Yellow.

I bought the shirt. Shortly thereafter, I cut off the sleeves. In the ensuing 1 1/2 decades, ol’ GSB Sun has been with me through multiple marathons, countless long runs, endless gym workouts and pickup basketball games. Why, I wore it last night to 24 Hour Fitness, played two hours of hoop and came home. The wet stains you see are my sweat—more prespiration added to the collection.

So why the loyalty? Because—highs and lows, ups and downs—the shirt has been a part of a huge chunk of my life. I like the back story—Oakland thrift shop. I like wondering who had it before me. I like that the blood stain still remains, though faded.

I like that it fits.

It fits me.

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Running with Emmett through the streets of New Rochelle, 2012

19 Kids and F-cked Up

Josh Duggar•Ted Cruz 2016

Josh Duggar•Ted Cruz 2016

In case you missed this news (and, if you’re a sane person with normal concerns, you probably did), Josh Duggar done messed up.

Wait. Who’s Josh Duggar? Oh, right. He’s the oldest of the children who appear on the hit TLC show, “19 Kids and Counting.” If you haven’t watched, the program features Jim Bob Duggar, Michelle Duggar, Michelle Duggar’s remarkable accurate vagina, zero boxes of condoms and the 19 children the couple has damned brought into the world. Really, it’s the story of a bunch of wackadoo, uneducated, Bible-thumping Arkansas Christians who keep having unprotected sex, then screaming “Miracle!” every time someone gets pregnant. Of all the crap TV shows that air from time to time in my house, it’s easily my least favorite. Still, I seem to be in the minority. “19 Kids and Counting” kills it in the cable ratings battle.

Anyhow, the show is big. Really big. Especially among conservative Christians, who love the messages of family and Jesus and togetherness and Jesus and wacky situations involving 19 kids and Jesus. Which, predictably, works out well for a while. Until, inevitably, something, um, inconvenient pops up.

Like, well, today.

It turns out that, during his teen years, Josh Duggar allegedly molested some girls. Like, a bunch of girls. He was even turned in to Arkansas State Police by his father, but then released by an officer who later would be charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse (long story, but here’s a link). Of course, Josh went through counseling and prayer and tough times, and now he—wait for it … wait for it … wait for it—works for the Family Research Council, an pro-marriage, pro-family organization that specializes in making gay people feel like absolute dog shit. Here, this is from the website …

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 11.20.00 PMThe irony, as always, is beautiful—because once again you have an arch-conservative Christian group telling people that they’re unholy … while the very person screaming “Unholy!” is painfully unholy. Whenever these things pop up, the patterns are predictable to the point of boredom. Don’t you think somewhere, maybe not deep inside, Josh Duggar screams “Unholy!” because he knows where he walked? He knows what he did? He knows that, by comparison, two men or two women marrying each other isn’t nearly as harmful as molestation? So he battles against that; suppresses his own evils by noting the alleged evils of others. Which, ironically, aren’t evils at all.

Wait. There’s more! Late last year Michelle Duggar actively campaigned against an Arkansas anti-discrimination law. She even participated in a robo call, warned voters that, should the law pass, transgender men could (gasp!) wind up using the women’s bathroom. Her exact words …

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The awesomeness here is, well, awesome. Hello, this is Michelle Duggar. I want to warn you that there are transgender men out there, and we should restrict their rights because they might endanger children. Meanwhile, my pervert son walks like you, talks like you—so, um, hey. Mazel tov!

Truth is, I can deal with a guy having problems and, as an adult, finding his way. I can deal with religious nuts having 19 kids and praising Jesus. I can even handle cats eating macaroni. What I cannot accept, however, is holier-than-thou bullshit moralizing to the masses, when, truly, the one who needs moralizing is the moralizer.

To hell with “19 Kids and Counting.” I’m watching Webster.

How dare Steph Curry

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I’m a little late to this, but allow me to join the many journalists who were livid at Steph Curry, Golden State superstar, bringing his daughter Riley to the podium after Game 1.

I mean, it was an awful distraction. With little Riley there, being all cute and loud and all, how could the assembled reporters properly identify themselves (“Jeff Pearlman! Jeff Pearlman’s website!”) before asking Steph Curry to explain what adjustments were made before the second half? Or when, exactly, he knew he was feeling it? Or what it says about this Golden State team that they could come out and win the first game? Or what Steve Kerr said to the team at halftime? Or whether there’s a sense of destiny here?

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With little Riley there, being all cute and loud and all, how could the assembled reporters ask Steph Curry whether he relishes taking big shots? Or if he’s worried about a Game 2 letdown? Or what message this game sent? Or whether the Warriors have the hearts of champions?

As many have noted, this was clearly an evil ploy for Steph Curry to avoid all the tough and probing questions inevitably asked during such sessions.

Cute little girl experiencing a fun moment with Daddy?

No thanks. He’s an embarrassment.

Watching a child grow

Me and her, 2006.

Me and her, 2006.

Sometimes I feel as if I’m losing my daughter. Which, I suppose, I am.

She’s 11. Until a few months ago, I would tuck her in every night. It started when she was teeny tiny, and I’d crawl into bed and sing her songs. “Georgie” by Hall and Oates, “No Rain” by Blind Melon, “Beth” by KISS. On and on. We’d read books, and she’d ask for stories.

“What kind of story?” I’d say.

“One from your life.”

“OK, well this one time …”

People have long said my daughter and I look alike. She’s tall, long limbs, blue eyes. Back in the day we’d make weekly pilgrimages to the Westchester Mall, where we had a standard routine of visiting Sephora, then Pottery Barn Kids, then the jewelry shop where they handed out free chocolate cookies. We’d have dinner in the food court, chat, laugh. Sometimes the Dippin’ Dots machine was involved. Just sometimes.

My daughter and I used to talk about everything—and she’d look forward to it. Name a topic, from music to school to growing up, and we’d discuss. I’d sit at the end of her bed and we’d jump from topic to topic to topic.

It’s now 2015. We’re still tight. Very tight. But it’s a bit different. Predictably so, but still a bit jarring. Most nights, my daughter just asks to read and go to sleep. I’ll come in, pop up on her bed, say, “Let’s talk!” Half the time she’s in, but half the time she’ll tell me she’s tired, and wants to focus on a book and turn the lights off. There are no more songs, no more requests for stories. At the start of this year, both of us new to California, she’d want me to drive her to school every day. I usually did so once or twice a week, and cherished the moments. Now, with familiarity and friends, she prefers to take the bus.

I’m fully aware this is all common turf. Important turf. Children grow and evolve and become increasingly independent. It’s great that she loves reading; great that she has friends; great that she feels comfortable on the bus.

Every so often, however, I’d love for her to say, “Daddy, tell me story.”

About what?

“One from your life.”

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Tiki Barber

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Back in 2011, Tiki Barber planned his comeback to the NFL. The former New York Giants tailback had been retired for four seasons, and, well, it hadn’t gone smoothly. Initially, Barber was considered the ideal candidate to transition from playing field to real world. He was hired as a correspondent for The Today Show, as well as for NBC’s Football Night in America. Hell, he even hosted the pre-show for the 66th Golden Globe Awards. It was all sunshine and honey.

Then, the bottom fell out. Word spread that, in 2009, Barber had left his pregnant wife for a 23-year-old NBC intern. The New York tabloids went bonkers. He made some ill-advised quotes. His contract was not renewed by NBC. And, like that, Tiki Barber was persona non grata. Suddenly he was sitting at home, watching bad television and wondering what the hell happened.

He tried returning to the NFL—it didn’t work (the market for 36-year-old running backs isn’t great).

Again, he was lost, confused, hurt, devastated. So, with few options and little hope, he partnered up in an oddball business venture called Thuzio.

And here we are.

These days, the 40-year-old Barber is the co-chairman of Thuzio, a company that provides businesses and professionals with an all access pass to celebrity talent through database, booking and event services. He’s also the co-host of Tiki and Tierney on CBS Sports Radio. He’s married, lives in New York with his wife and kids and Tweets regularly  here.

Tiki Barber, don’t call it a comeback. The Quaz has been here for years …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Tiki, is fame a good thing or a bad thing?

TIKI BARBER: Fame is a great thing because it means you’re celebrated for doing something good. Now, we usually reserve that for athletes and movie stars and etc., but I think teachers are the same way. Or parents. I think it is a good thing, as long as it’s channeled correctly.

J.P.: But it seems like it comes with a lot of … the destructive element of fame. Lately I’ve been thinking about the Kardashians, who drive me crazy …

T.B.: I don’t understand their fame, either.

J.P.: Is it addicting?

T.B.: Is it addicting? You know what’s addicting? Relevance. So it’s less about being famous, because there are a lot of people, we don’t have a clue who they are, but when you get told about them you learn that they’re extraordinarily relevant in their industry. For instance, if you didn’t know the hedge fund world and somebody told you about Paul Tudor Jones, you’d be like, ‘Holy cow! That guy’s an ass kicker.’ So I think relevance is what’s addicting. Fame is just kind of a product of these great people who do great things.

J.P.: I interviewed a guy the other day who lost a Super Bowl, and he also played with the Browns when they went 3-13. He said he would rather go 3-13 than lose the Super Bowl. You lost a Super Bowl. Is it better to go 3-13? Or 11-5 and lose the Super Bowl?

T.B.: Did this guy also win a Super Bowl?

J.P.: No. He did not.

T.B.: Hmmm … I’ve done both. I don’t know if I went 3-13, but I’ve had a ridiculously bad season. I think losing a Super Bowl is much more preferable to going 3-13. Because you don’t feel like you’re doing your job if you lose like that. I guess for me it was all about achieving something. Was it all about me at times? Yeah. But was it not about me at times? Of course. If I’m not doing my job and 53 other guys aren’t doing their jobs, you go 3-13. But if you’re doing your job, at the end of the day it’s entertainment. So if everyone does their job, and the fans are entertained, losing the Super Bowl is much preferable.

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J.P.: Was the Super Bowl fun even though you lost?

T.B.: Um, you know, I’m gonna say, yeah, it was fun. But it was frustrating. Because we were so good leading up to that game and we were so bad in the actual game.”

J.P.: I’ve asked this to a gazillion people, and I pretty much get a 50/50 split on answers. If you take into account the aftermath of a football career, as far as the physical, mental, financial problems—is it worth it being a professional football player?

T.B.: Yes, and I think even more so as the years go on. Because the brand continuation is getting easier to capture. Before social networking, if you were a starting cornerback on a football team, 90 percent of the world didn’t know who you were. But the way it is now, you can expose your brand and let it live for much longer. So, yes, it’s definitely worth it. Especially if you’re smart how you position yourself for your post-career.

J.P.: What sort of physical pain do you have because of football?

T.B.: None.

J.P.: What?

T.B.: The only major issue I had was a torn TCL, which created laxity in my knee joint. I have some bone spurs. But I just ran a marathon. I’m running a half marathon in three weeks.

J.P.: How do you explain so many running backs in pain, and you’re not?

T.B.: I think a lot of it is the pounding and the fighting through injury. You get hurt, you get a little nick or something and you keep going. I think it’s a precursor to what happened to the running back—he became expendable. You kind of knew that. It’s probably the easiest job to learn how to do, and to do well, if you know what you’re doing.

J.P.: Are you lucky?

T.B.: Absolutely. There’s an enormous part of me that’s lucky, because there were times when I get bent backward or Roy Williams—the master of the horse collar—he horse collared me, and I fell on the back of my legs and I just happened to fall just right so I got a sprained ankle as opposed to a broken ankle.

J.P.: I remember when Thuzio just came out and I was like, ‘What the hell is this?’ And I’d go through it and say, ‘Hmm, John Rocker will appear at my birthday party for $500?’ And now it seems like you guys have become something different, and smarter. When did the idea come up, and when did you realize it would work?

T.B.: The second part of that question is difficult, because we’ve gone through so many iterations. But I’ll get to that in a second. So this idea came from my and Mark Gerson, who is my co-founder. Really just having a conversation over lunch. Now I’ve heard this subsequently, and it’s exactly right. To start a great business and to understand how to make it work, it has to be your problem. You solve your problem, so you know all the answers to the questions when they come your way. So Mark and I started talking about how do athletes book themselves when they don’t have an agent anymore. I said, ‘That’s a great question. I have no idea.’ So basically, after three months, we created Thuzio. How did I know it’d work? I didn’t. Because it started as an e-commerce company, then it moved into a booking business, then it moved into an events company and now it’s moved back into a software company, which is Thuzio 360, which gives this comprehensive look at any athlete across the world. We have 21,000 on our platform. For ad agencies or anyone who has interest in an athlete commercially. I think we knew it was going to work at the Super Bowl in 2014. That’s when Ernst and Young, who had a debate whether to bid $1.5 on the NFL Super Bowl professional services contract, or could they contact Thuzio and do six events in their offices with Joe Montana and Dan Marino and Phil Simms and Victor Cruz and Wayne Chrebet and reach many more people at intimate events and get CEOs to come. They chose to do the latter, and they had an unbelievable Super Bowl. That’s what prompted us to start doing Thuzio executive club. And every time we did one—Brian Billick, Roger Clemens—every single one of these things was fantastic. That’s when I knew we had something that was going to work and have legs. And here we are cooking along.

J.P.: It’s a really smart idea.

T.B.: Thank you. I appreciate that.

J.P.: I could walk down the street right now, past a firefighter who just saved 12 kids from a burning building, or I could walk past a pilot who every day lands a 300,000-pound piece of metal in the sky—and I don’t really give a crap. But Wayne Chrebet walks by and people go crazy. How do you explain that?

T.B.: I think it’s something that’s not easy to accomplish, and we know that. We would love to do it but we can’t. And even if you were trained like a pilot or a firefighter, you still couldn’t do it at the highest level. It’s an unattainable goal and you’ve seen someone do it really well. And you’re in awe of it. You’re in awe of their ability to do something you couldn’t do, even if you really, really, really, really tried your hardest. And I think there’s immediacy in it. I always say this when I speak—the lessons of life, people want to hear them from athletes because they’re exactly the same, it’s just the media. You’re judged immediately. Were you successful? Was he good at that play? Not, ‘Was he good in the last financial quarter?’ I was good in the first quarter, I was shitty in the second quarter. I think the instant gratification that sports provides is really compelling.

The Barber brothers.

The Barber brothers.

J.P.: But you’ll see these advertisements for sports people as business speakers. You know, ‘Tom Coughlin will come speak to your group about success in the office!’ And I always think, ‘Is there really anything—truly anything—a football coach can teach the guys at Xerox?’

T.B.: I would say no. But what I would say that he can give an experience … those speeches are more about giving insight into football, and stories behind what happened. Who was Pick Mickelson’s caddy? Jim (Bones) Mackay. He had him do one of our Thuzio Executive Club events. He’s not even a star. He’s a caddy. He was explaining these moments that everyone in that room—and they were gold fans—knew Phil had gone through. And he’s explaining it. And it’s like these people were re-living those moments with a commentary. So it’s no different than watching a documentary on someone or reading a memoir from a guy, giving you greater clarity. That’s special, because you can’t get that on an everyday basis. It’s not that he’s teaching them anything. He’s explaining how the successes he had happened. And that is a lesson in itself.

J.P.: So I’m a big fan of comebacks. Like, a huge fan. Mark Spitz, Jim Palmer—anyone who comes back. And I remember when you were coming back and I was thinking, ‘Yes! Comeback!’ I can’t explain it. Here are my two questions: Were you doing it out of love? Because you needed money? 2. Are you better off that it didn’t work out?

T.B.: The answer to No. 2—I am absolutely better off that it didn’t work out. Because that was the exact same time that I sat down and had lunch for the first time with Mark, who wound up being my co-founder of Thuzio. Why was I trying to come back? I was covering the Super Bowl, and Mike Tomlin said, ‘You know, you should try and come back. We could use a guy like you.’ I really was doing nothing else. Literally. Working for Yahoo here and there, but otherwise I was directionless. I mean, I’d wake up in the morning and watch Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. I watched every episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. I watched every episode of Cheers. I watched every episode of Dexter and Roseanne. I’m not kidding you—I never left my apartment. And it got to a point where I was like, ‘I’m gonna jump off my roof if I don’t do something.’ I was out of TV, I didn’t have any media gigs. I didn’t know what to do. So what do I know how to do really well? Play football. So I worked out with Joe Carini, my strength coach, which was awesome. Because it was great to be in the gym lifting around all these guys. Muhammad Wilkerson was in there. LaDainian Tomlinson. It was great to be around the guys again, but then the lockout happened and I never really got a look. Could I have done it? Sure. Am I glad it didn’t happen? Absolutely. To me, it was something to get my ass off the couch and be engaged in life again. Which is something I hadn’t done in a long time. I was going through a divorce, all that shit.

Back in the day at Virginia.

Back in the day at Virginia.

J.P.: I feel like you’re a great example of … you had a horrible run where it was all negative, negative, negative … but it seems like you’re the classic example where, if a lot of shit is going on, the best thing to do is wait it out and it’ll go away.

T.B.: Yes. You have to wait it out. But then you have to go do something. Don’t sit and feel sorry for yourself. Don’t say, ‘”I should have” or “People should have.” Forget that—go do something. And I think that’s what trying to come back to the NFL and founding Thuzio did for me. It was do something.  Find something you’re passionate about and really go do it. And it pulled me out of whatever I was in. Call it depression or whatever it was. I was lucky. I had good friends. I had bad friends who disappeared, and that was probably a good thing at the end of the day. But I had a lot of good friends who pulled me out and got me engaged doing things I feel really fulfilled doing.

J.P.: You ran for 10,500 yards. Are you a Hall of Famer, and do you care?

T.B.: I would say I am a Hall of Famer, but I understand how the process works. And do I care? Somewhat. You know what I mean? I don’t know if it makes me any different now if I’m viewed as a Hall of Famer. Because I’m borderline. I know I’ve done some unbelievable things in my career. I’m the all-time leading rusher in Giants history. There are only three guys with 10,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yards receiving. I was unique and different. But what’s held against me, and I know this, is I left and they won the Super Bowl. Not that my presence or non-presence had anything to do with the Giants’ Super Bowl run. If you look at the statistics—the rushing statistics and Eli Manning’s statistics are almost the same from 2006 to 2007. The difference is that Michael Strahan played eight games, Jason Tuck played 12. These guys were beat up. But when they won in 2007, their defense was unbelievable. So as much as people want to point to me as the problem, it was actually the other side of the ball that got really good, and that’s why they won.

With wife Traci and daughter Brooklyn.

With wife Traci and daughter Brooklyn.

J.P.: Does that hurt your feelings?

T.B.: Not really. Here’s what I love, because I’m a geek and stats matter to me. Analytics matter to me. So if people are going to say what they want to say about me, and that’s your opinion because you don’t like me—fine. But if you’re going to say I’m a bad player, I’m going to call you full of shit. Because I wasn’t. So that’s what bothers me. When people say I wasn’t a good player—no. If you don’t like me because of something I’ve done, or because I trumpet I’m intelligent, fine. But I was a good player.

J.P.: Is it hard watching your team win a Super Bowl the year after you leave?

T.B.: No, it wasn’t. Because I wasn’t committed to being on that team. There’s so much depth as to why I retired. No. 1, obviously, was because of the pounding. But, No. 2., there were so many things happening for me outside of football that were very interesting. Working at Fox News. This was all in the off-season before I retired. Condoleezza Rice asked me to have lunch with her in the State Department. I went to Dick Cheney’s Christmas party. I was traveling, doing stories that weren’t football related. Those things became interesting to me at the same time my body started to break down. And I didn’t wanna put in the work. I didn’t want to go dead lift 550 pounds and squat 700 pounds. And I made the rational decision to walk away. Most guys would steal a check; play another year because the money is so good. But that would have been disingenuous to myself, much less my teammates.

J.P.: I just thought the grief you took over the Eli quote was so overblown …

T.B.: It was stupid. There was no malice aforethought. It was picking the wrong word. Literally picking the wrong word. What I meant was that he’s funny. Not that he’s a joke, but that he’s funny. Because he is an awesome kid.

J.P.: I know you’ve heard this a million times. But very few athletes I’ve seen—who were good to the media, great with fans—caught more shit …

T.B.: Yeah. That’s one of the things that bothered me from the media standpoint. Forget the fans and everything else. But the media. They piled on. I was so accessible to you guys, you all had my cell phone number. If you had a question you called me directly. You didn’t call and agent or publicist. You called me directly. And as soon as they had the opportunity to cast me as the foil, they did.

J.P.: Do you forgive?

T.B.: Of course. Of course. Steve Serby is my boy, even though he tried throwing me under the bus by saying I gave my brother tips on how to beat the Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2007. I mean, I understand what they have to do for a living. Sell newspapers.

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• Five greatest running backs of your lifetime: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin and Marshall Faulk. Because of Marshall Faulk, I was able to be the guy who had 10,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yard receiving.

• Three ugliest NFL helmets: Browns, Jaguars and … lemme think. I can’t think of a third one. Buffalo Bills.

• We give you 30 carries in an NFL game right now. What’s your line?: I’m gonna have 160 yards and one touchdown. Because I’ll always get caught on the 1. Brandon Jacobs will come in and score it.

• You ran the New York City Marathon in 2014. Impressions?: It was miserable. It was the coldest marathon in the last 20 years, and I can’t explain it, my body quit. I broke down at mile 14 and I got full-body cramps. So I ended up walking the second half. So I need to do it again.

• Best movie I’ve ever seen?: This is going back to my childhood, but The Goonies.

• Three nicest guys you’ve ever dealt with in professional sports: I’d say Drew Brees, C.C. Sabathia and I’ll give my brother Ronde a toss.

• I’m having a debate with now. In 1999 for Sports Illustrated I wrote the story about John Rocker, racist ballplayer. He recently said I took him out of context and lied. Last week the fact checker sent me the tapes. Release them or sit on them?: Ahhh … mmmm … ehhh …. ummm … I think you sit on them. Because it’s only proving your point that your story already proved.

• Better voice—Johnny Gill or Daryl Hall?: I say Johnny Gill. I love Hall and Oates, but I go Gill.

• Three memories from living in New Rochelle, N.Y.: Three memories? I was only there for eight months. OK, one—it was my first time in my life living in a house and my basement flooded because the sub pump was broken. Two—I met a woman and her kids down the street who have become the best friends of my life. And she’s the Godmother of my youngest daughter. And the third—the house was so poorly designed and they had lofty ceilings. My electric bill, with minimal usage, was about $1,000 a month. It was bad.

• Do you let your kids play tackle football?: I do let my kids play tackle football because they have a passion for the sport. I think it’s more because of Uncle Ronde, because Daddy retired when they were young. However, my oldest son, A.J., had a concussion in his first year and I told him if he had another concussion before reaching high school he wouldn’t be able to play until reaching high school. He’s 12 now. He was 10 when he got the concussion. We didn’t know, but it was in Scarsdale, and there was a doctor. He played the next week and got sick. That’s a sign you’re suffering from post-concussion syndrome. We pulled him. Nothing since.

Requiem for a little league coach …

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Yesterday afternoon marked the final game of my first season as a little league baseball coach.

We, the Red Sox, scored two runs.

They, the Angels, scored eight or nine.

In other words, we got slaughtered in the wrap-up of a 6-4 campaign.

And, with that, everything came to an end.

I am happy. I am also sad.

I’m happy because I’m tired. Coaching a bunch of 7- and 8-year olds can beat on a guy. Boys that age are gross and annoying and irksome and inattentive. But I’m sad, because they’re also loving and smart and inquisitive and unique. I’m happy, because my Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings will now be free. I’m sad, because my Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings will now be free.

Some background: My son’s name is Emmett. He’s 8, and he very much likes baseball. When we moved to Southern California from New York late last year, I was warned—repeatedly—that people out here are crazy about baseball; that many take what should be a child’s best memories and turn them into sludge. I heard tales of overly competitive parents; of 9-year-olds having personal pitching coaches; of managers who—when the kids are but 8, 9 and 10—align them to specific positions for the entire season; of a rush to transform Junior (of the Emmett Pearlman variety)  into the next Junior (of the Ken Griffey variety).

So, in a way, this is why I volunteered to coach. Because, having covered baseball (and sports) for such a long time, I was well versed in the dark side of athletics. Truth is, I’ve spent time with thousands of professional athletes, and a large percentage (lives devoted to the singular pursuit of meeting ball with wood stick, or launching an oblong ball far down a grass field) are as hollow as a termite-infested oak. Try asking Major Leaguers to name, say, the secretary of state, or their parents’ anniversary, or (members of the Dodgers, Angels, Padres, Giants and A’s) whether there’s a drought going on in California. I assure you, the responses will be largely jarring and sad and uninformed. Why? Because to make it as a high-level athlete, you need to hyper focus in a way 99.9 percent of us will never understand. Your priority is not your wife or your kids or your parents or even your happiness. It’s hitting that ball with that stick. Over and over and over again.

It’s the reason athletes, as I said earlier, are often hollow. It’s also the reason, as soon as a career ends, unhappiness and emptiness (often unsolvable) ensues.

Wait. That was quite the tangent.

I didn’t volunteer to coach so I could keep kids from becoming pro ballplayers. No, I volunteered to coach because childhood is fleeting, and too many adults forget this. I volunteered to coach because I wanted my son and his peers to have a blast. Yes, to learn and absorb a beautiful game. But also to run and jump and chase and joke and kid and laugh and fart and burp and spit.

I’m 43. A month ago, I was 9—a little boy playing catcher and wearing No. 11 for Jenny Oil in the Mahopac Sports Association Little League. I still vividly recall squatting behind home plate, my sneakers in the dust, nervously awaiting a pitch from Mike Abbott, our best (and only?) pitcher. I remember the highs of a single up the middle, the lows of getting tagged out at second. Mainly, I remember the happiness of being on a team and feeling a part of something. The specific lessons? Fleeting. The emotions? Powerful.

I thought about those emotions often this season. Our team name was (somewhat regrettably) the Red Sox. During our first practice, I told the kids that we were cursed by a boring moniker, and every week a different player would choose our name. Over the course of the season, we were the San Francisco Stinkers, the Mahopac Gatorsaurs, the Cleveland Purple Band-Aids, the Anaheim Butts. I handed out my old baseball cards as rewards for hustle, hard work, attentiveness (There is something quite funny in hearing an 8-year old turn to you and say, “Was George Hendrick good?”). After every game—win or lose—our players gathered in a circle, hands in, and chanted two things. First, the opposing team’s name. Then, “I am a jelly donut!”

I started the season eying the 13 players somewhat warily. I ended the season by truly loving them. We were a quirky group. Lucas, the dashing jock who showed up every week in eye black. Max, inexperienced, ruthlessly hard on himself—and 1,000 times improved from the season’s start; Ashton B., owner of $100 million athleticism and an endearing Bobby Meacham-esque need to throw sidearm; Davis, who would approach me mid-game with thoughts like, “Maybe green would be better if it were blue”; Jason, grinning dimple to dimple whether he struck out or singled; Dax, who walked, ran and hit like a miniature Ty Cobb clone; Ashton H., the biggest kid on the team and the biggest heart on the team … who saw me at an after-school bake sale and said, “What cookie would you like, coach?”; Anderson, who arrived for most practices with his grandpa in tow, and would look proudly toward the gray-haired man in the stands every time he smacked a ball down the first base line; Henry, who never complained whether he hit leadoff of 13th, played shortstop or right field; Michael, who thanked me four times after yesterday’s game for “such a great season”; Bradan, who could swing through 10-straight pitches, then launch a rocket to center and bark, “That was great!”; Emmett, my boy, who played so incredibly hard, who never moped when I (regularly) sat him two innings so others could get more time; who tried throwing three knucklers while pitching in our last game, and looked back at me with a sly grin after each effort.

Perhaps the most rewarding (from a coaching standpoint) of the group was Caden, who showed up for the first practice knowing very little of the game’s intricacies. He’s a small kid with a surprisingly quick bat, but his attention would flicker like an outdoor candle. In one of our first games, Caden was standing on first when Lucas smashed a double, and he forgot to run. “Caden!” I yelled. “Run! Caden! Run!” At that moment, I thought, “Hmm … this kid could be a challenge.”

Then, amazingly and unexpectedly, something clicked. I let Caden pitch and—somewhere deep within his skinny right arm—was a bolt of J.R. Richard lightning. He threw strikes. Hard strikes. And you could see his eyes light up with excitement. That line (eyes light up) is an awful cliche—but, in this case, it was true. Something flipped in the boy; a “Holy shit, I can do this!” moment that reminded me why I volunteered to coach and why youth baseball has survived for decades, even when more exciting and popular games come along and steal some limelight.

Will Caden ever become a Major Leaguer?

Almost certainly not.

But will he remember the spring of 2015? Of standing on the mound for your Anaheim Butts?

I sure hope so.

Showtime Book
Love Me, Hate Me Barry Bonds Book
Sweetness Walter Peyton Book
The Bad Guys Won Book
The Rocket that Fell to Earth Book
Boys Will Be Boys Book

Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life