MINNEAPOLIS - Marion Barber III never got the chance to play at Huntington Bank Stadium, but the University of Minnesota honored the life of the former Gophers’ star on Wednesday at the facility they say he help build.
Barber was found dead in his Frisco, Texas, apartment on June 1 after authorities were called for a welfare check. An official cause of death has not been released. Since retiring from the NFL in 2012, Barber had been struggling with his mental health. He was just 38 years old, and less than two weeks away from turning 39.
A few hundred people gathered on campus Wednesday, including family, friends, former teammates and coaches of Barber to celebrate a life lost too soon. A Plymouth native, Barber is one of four in his family to play football for the Gophers. He finished fourth in program history with 3,276 career rushing yards and 4,495 all-purpose yards. He was second in program history with 35 touchdowns.
His teammate in the backfield, Laurence Maroney, was one of many to speak about Barber at his celebration of life. He apologized to the family for not doing more to help his football brother.
"He was not just a teammate to me, not a guy I made history with, not a guy I just met at Minnesota but truly my brother. This one hurts, it hurts deep," Maroney said. "To the family, I’m going to always be hurting with y’all. I can’t shake the feeling of there’s something more I should’ve done. I’m sorry because I couldn’t figure out the more. I apologize and I’m sorry to the family. Marion, until we meet again, I love you too brother."
The family’s favorite singing group, "The Sounds of Blackness," provided the tribute music at Wednesday’s ceremony. The program for the celebration of life featured a touching letter from his father. His brother, Dom, gave a touching speech that touched on football, family live and how he would rather throw a block on a blitz or have an offensive lineman spike the ball on one of his touchdowns.
"Many remember the athlete, I’ll remember him as my big brother. The hardest part for me is my kids won’t have uncle Marion," Dom said. "Whatever you touched, you were good at. You showed us, silently, what it would take to not be average. You worked when no one was watching. You loved people, you loved life."
His Gophers’ coach, Glen Mason, took the podium and told the story about how they recruited Barber as a defensive back out of Wayzata. He wanted one chance to be a running back, and if it didn’t work, he would switch back to defense. It was one of the best decisions Mason ever made with the Gophers.
Mason joked about how Barber fumbled in a bowl game against Alabama, then went onto win MVP of the game as the Gophers beat the Crimson Tide. He also would see Barber and Maroney riding around campus on scooters without a care in the world, cringing at the thought they might get hurt.
"I’m going to remember not just the athlete, I’m going to remember the kid, the smile. I wish we could’ve found a way to get him more help. Maybe one of the greatest compliments I can give Marion Barber is he had the respect of everybody that he came in contact with," Mason said.
A group of Dallas Cowboys’ players also took the stage to talk about Barber. The Cowboys drafted him in 2005, and he spent six seasons in Dallas. Barber earned a spot in the Pro Bowl in 2007 after rushing for 975 yards and 10 touchdowns. He finished his NFL career with 4,780 rushing yards and 53 rushing touchdowns.
One of his former Cowboys’ teammates to speak? Terrell Owens.
"When I heard the news, it shook me to my core, like everybody else. Everybody that came into contact with him the last three to five years, we often played in my head what could I have done? What could we have done differently? We don’t know," Owens said fighting tears." Understanding what has transpired with him, not that we want him where he is, but it would be selfish for us to have him here. May he rest in peace."
A man who loved life and had an infectious smile also faced mental health struggles. Everyone who knew Barber agrees it was a life lost far too soon.