Twenty years later,

by Anthony Maggio

Former Minnesota running back Marion Barber Jr. greeted his son on Saturday evening with a big smile.

“He really smiled at me,” Marion Barber III said. “Smiled, and told me I did a great job. Since high school, it’s been the same.”

Barber Jr., who rushed for the Gophers from 1977-80, and his wife Karen had gone to the Metrodome on Saturday morning excited to possibly see their oldest son, Marion Barber III, get some playing time in Minnesota’s first home game.

Barber Jr. had told his son prior to this, his freshman season, to do whatever he was told to do and play every down like it would be his last.

Then Barber Jr. saw his son head onto the field with the kickoff return team to start the game.

“We were kind of surprised to see him on the starting receiving team,” Barber Jr. said. “Then he headed to the sideline, so (Karen and I) were trying to get comfy in our seats.

“Then we saw him trot back out and we both asked, ‘What was his number again?'”

Tellis Redmon, the slated starter, was benched in the first quarter on Saturday for disciplinary reasons, and Barber III was granted the lead role in Redmon’s place.

Not only did Barber III earn the start, he was handed the ball a team leading 26 times, rushing for 173 yards and his first two career touchdowns.

After performing well in two-a-days, coach Glen Mason had said Barber III was one of his freshmen to watch.

“He’s one of the guys I’ve talked up as far as who the newcomers are,” Mason said after Saturday’s game. “He’s been impressive so far.”

Since his performance, however, he continues to be mentioned in the same breath as his father.

Barber III does not want to be compared to his father. But since Barber Jr. played the same position at the same school, it’s hard to separate the two.

Barber Jr. currently ranks second in Minnesota history with 34 career rushing touchdowns. He ranks fourth in career rushing yards with 3,094, and fifth in all-purpose yards with 3,791.

“I just have taken a position to back off and stay away,” Barber Jr. said. “I don’t want to draw any attention for me. It’s his thing, it’s his turn now, and his era.”

Barber Jr. doesn’t think Barber III’s decision to attend Minnesota is directly related to his career with the Gophers. He believes his son’s love for Minnesota athletics was the driving force.

“The boys have always been avid Minnesota fans,” Barber Jr. said. “When my athletic days were done (with the New York Jets), the first thing they said was, `Now, can we be Vikings fans?'”

Barber Jr. also said he did not want to pressure his son about what school to attend, but he’s definitely happy his son decided to become a Gopher.

Barber III, the oldest of three children, was actually recruited to Minnesota as a defensive back. At Wayzata High School, Barber led his team with 10 interceptions, including three against Cretin-Derham Hall’s Joe Mauer.

However, Barber III also rushed for 1,778 yards and 18 touchdowns. So when he asked Mason if he could give running back a shot first, Mason gave him the go-ahead.

“I’ve always wanted to play running back,” Barber III said. “I’ve been playing running back all my life. Defense was always second to me.”

Barber III said his high school coach told him he has a different running style than his dad did in his playing days. Barber Jr. agrees.

“We happen to share the same name, but we’re two totally different players,” Barber Jr. said. “I more or less considered myself three yards and a cloud of dust, and he’s a little more speedy and heads up.”

But when it comes to watching his son, Barber Jr. said its an emotional experience.

“It’s almost hard to put into words,” Barber Jr. said.

A smile will do just fine.

Anthony Maggio covers football and welcomes
comments at [email protected]