By Eric Klein (DigitaLx2001) for

Perhaps the concept of a true ‘team’ and what it means to be part of one is lost in this modern sports era of free agency, huge salaries, and even larger egos. Maybe I’m the one who’s being the idealist, expecting players to show some loyalty to their organization, their teammates and their fans. It’s just how I was raised, my experiences as part of a team (though certainly not on a pro sports level) and what I expect to see from professional athletes and the Giants that I have rooted for my entire life.

I did not choose to be a New York Giants fan; it was essentially bestowed upon me before I could even walk. My loyalty is unquestioned, and it’s not as if I even had a choice in the matter. This is blind loyalty, and something that (aside from probably being somewhat unhealthy) I could not expect an athlete to have for the Giants in the same way that I do. That much I do understand.

I can definitely see why a player may not have a true allegiance to a team; as a fan, I don’t have to worry about the Giants cutting or trading me, but they can do so to a player on a whim. Fans can boo players and call for them to be run out of town, so I can also understand if a player is weary of a team’s fan base.

Lack of loyalty to teammates, though, is what really makes me ill. These are the men that you went to war with; you went through the same two-a-days, spilled the same blood in the same mud (to quote a line from “The Rock”), and endured that same overtime game where you’re barely able to stand, let alone endure another snap, colliding full speed into the enemy with every ounce of strength you have left.

If you don’t do your job, not only does that affect the team’s chances of winning (which may not be of any real importance to many of these players anymore), but you may be responsible for a teammate being seriously injured. The same holds true for them; your career is always on the line – one slip up by anyone and it could be compromised in the blink of an eye. The trust of each man to put their livelihood in the hands of another on a perpetual basis is something that most people cannot fathom.

With this trust, one would think there would be loyalty. This is apparently no longer so.

Let’s take Tiki Barber and Eli Manning as obvious examples, two men that were on the same team for three years. Let’s say its 2004, and rookie Eli throws a dump pass a little too lackluster, leaving Barber exposed to a massive hit resulting in a career ending injury. His playing days end as someone who was decent but never really shook his fumbling habit, and he becomes an afterthought in Giants history (Yes, he’d be near many of the Giants records, but did anyone think he was great before 2004? Honestly, he was one of the most frustrating players I could remember because he would do something truly spectacular, then proceed to fumble the ball away. Anyway.. not my main point here).

Conversely, if Tiki misses a blitz pickup and Manning gets railed, we’re looking for another franchise QB. These are extreme situations, but could have happened at ANY TIME over three years. These men battled together and at times literally put each others careers in one another’s hands. Two men that, while possessing entirely different demeanors, were both highly competitive and seeking the same ultimate goal of achieving that ring – an honor which nobody could ever take away or say you didn’t earn. This is not the same type of bond one forms with a coworker at an office job. This HAS to be something more. Hearing Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms talk about one another, even though they had their disagreements, it’s apparent they are still very close after all these years – we’ve all seen the NFL Films specials. Sure, winning a Super Bowl helps, but camaraderie now just doesn’t seem to be what it once was.

So here we have Tiki Barber, Tiki calling out Eli on national television, saying that it was almost “comical” when he had given a pre-game speech in 2006. Maybe he just wants to advance his television career, and keeping one’s mouth shut and analyzing football itself just doesn’t land enough face time I suppose. I guess it’s too much to ask for him to say something like “We’ll find out how Eli has been progressing as a leader as he has another year under his belt” or basically ANYTHING that doesn’t publicly expose a former teammate.

There are fans and members of the media who have defended Barber’s words, claiming he can say whatever he wants now; he’s not a Giant and he’s just telling you what he observed, using his inside knowledge to reveal as much as possible about the game of football. What side of the fence one falls on with this issue here really comes down to who you are as a person. Loyalty is a trait that you either have, or you don’t – you can’t be a little bit loyal. Tiki does not have loyalty to his teammates or to his former organization for whom he claimed to love so much. He decided it was more important to be noticed and to try to advance his post-NFL career. Running his mouth for the sake of maybe landing more new TV roles was more important (to someone who is already plenty rich, by the way) than staying low key and not adding more drama and controversy to his team of 10 years, and to the players he came to know as well as his own family.

I, for one, can honestly say I would never do that. Why? Because it does not take being in a position where my loyalty is on the line to know if I would break it, and it’s not like this is a tough decision either. I am certain that as a rich retired professional athlete that I would be perfectly content trying to make it as an analyst without ever compromising my former team in any way. Period. It’s been done before… by just about every other NFL-player-turned-TV-personality I can think of (Marshall Faulk, Rod Woodson, Steve Young… even Michael Irvin, who I of course hated as a player, has never thrown his teammates under the bus), except Barber of course.

Let’s forget for a second that this is all Tiki’s opinion, and the current Giants players might even agree with what he said (despite the fact that basically the whole team came out in defense of Eli). In all fairness, it’s very possible they could just be supporting Eli because thats what good teammates do. Ultimately, it’s better for the team to be together and unified behind their leader than for a potentially ugly (and in this case, maybe true) distraction to come out. But hey, maybe thats just my own crazy thinking.

Even if every word Tiki spoke was 100% true, he has still broken the trust and loyalty that should go along with what it means to be a true teammate; that’s why Eli fired back. Calm “aw, shucks” Easy E got riled up enough to respond because Tiki broke the unspoken rule: what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room. Publicly revealing fact or fiction here is still a betrayal, so I have no idea how anyone could possibly use the “it’s ok because it’s true” counterpoint (and if anything, truths are much more hurtful; picture this whole situation between you and a friend). The content of Tiki’s ramble is entirely irrelevant to me. Manning was in fact betrayed, as I believe the Giants organization as well as fans have been. Tiki Barber, even after his antics last year calling out the coaching and slipping about his retirement, still would have been held in very high regard by most fans after his career ended. This, however, I personally cannot forgive.

I’ve always wanted my Giants to be different than all those other teams, with players like Owens who are complete trash and have no concept of anything but their own popularity. I thought class was something we had, as a whole, over a lot of other teams – the fans, the organization, the players. Perhaps this is not the case. However, in my unwavering loyalty, I will still be a Giants fan, and will never stop rooting hard on Sundays. In my eyes, there is just a void atop the rushing records in our history now that we’ll have to work on filling in. Seems we’ve got this big ol’ monster wearing number 27 back there now… so with any luck, maybe that’ll happen sooner than later.