The report Monday that Tiki Barber drew zero interest from any NFL teams during his aborted comeback underscores that even for a former Pro Bowl running back, pro football isn't something a person can simply pick up and do well at, like Nintendo Wii.
Players in the NFL have spent years honing their minds and bodies to the very specific tasks of tackling, throwing, catching, blocking, etc., and even a few months of inactivity can wipe away all that hard work, ending their careers.
Former Boston Celtics guard Nate Robinson was seemingly unaware of that when he ventured that he wanted to try to play in the NFL during the NBA lockout. Only someone who has never stood close to an NFL player or who has spent too much time away from the gridiron could believe that an athlete, even an elite one like Robinson who played cornerback at the University of Washington, could just decide he wants to play pro football. Robinson should know better; Barber should know even better than him.
Making an NFL roster is hard. That may seem like an obvious statement, but many people don't understand this.
The most indisputable evidence of this happened right here in New England. Troy Brown was one of the greatest wide receivers in Patriots history. From 2000 to 2002, he made 281 receptions. Then, in 2004, he became a part-time nickle cornerback. He acquitted himself fairly well, making three interceptions, but he was a lost cause in coverage if a play lasted more than a couple of seconds. As a 15-year veteran, merely changing positions was a chore.
Wide receivers and cornerbacks use different techniques, need different skills and even use different muscles. Robinson is built well for a basketball player, but he'd look tiny in a football uniform, just as he'd look comically muscular in a baseball uniform. Barber may have been lifting weights and running on the treadmill every day since his retirment in 2006, but jogging with an iPod is poor preparation for trying to avoid 275-pound linebackers.
The rare exceptions — Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders played in the NFL and Major League Baseball early in their careers, and Brett Favre remained productive through numerous retirements and comebacks — are freaks of nature. They should be treated as the exception, not the rule.
The rule is Barber, who is still retired, just as he should be.
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