Bears running back Marion Barber says talk is cheap, especially with media
SEAN JENSEN ON THE bEARs October 20, 2011 9:50PM
Chicago Bears running back Marion Barber runs for a first down late in the first quarter of the Bears 34-29 win over the Carolina Panthers Sunday October 2, 2011 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: November 22, 2011 8:37AM
Bears running back Marion Barber might have lost a step, but he can still separate from reporters.
Other than a 75-second interview at training camp in Bourbonnais, Barber sidesteps and outraces anyone toting a microphone or notepad. When asked about his brother Dominique’s comments, he stopped long enough Wednesday to politely decline the interview.
“I’m good,” he said. “I’m not a talker.”
About 10 minutes later, though, Barber was at ex-Dallas Cowboys teammate Sam Hurd’s locker, loudly talking and laughing.
“He has a lot of personality most people don’t see,” said former Cowboys receiver Roy Williams, who is lying down in front of his locker right next to Hurd’s. “See, we can’t get him to shut up. So I don’t know why he won’t talk to y’all.”
To most, Barber is an enigma, a lightly recruited prep player who starred at the University of Minnesota and earned a Pro Bowl berth, even though he never has topped 1,000 rushing yards in a season.
After he was released by the Cowboys, Barber signed a two-year contract with the Bears. Serving as Matt Forte’s backup, Barber has 17 carries for 52 yards and two touchdowns in his seventh season in the NFL.
On the field, he’s known as Marion the Barbarian. But those who know him best insist he’s far different off the field, describing him as generous, loyal, worldly and —above all — outgoing.
Marion Barber Jr. starred for the Gophers from 1977 to 1980, gaining 3,235 yards and scoring 34 touchdowns before playing seven seasons in the NFL.
He raised his sons, Marion III and Dominique, in Plymouth, Minn., where they played at Wayzata High. Three years older, Marion protected his younger brother.
“Growing up, it wasn’t like, ‘Beat on the little brother.’ He was always looking out for me and making sure I was doing the right things,” said Dominique, now a Houston Texans safety. “I try to be like him.”
Marion would give Dominique a ride to school, and he counseled his brother on everything.
A running back and defensive back, Marion wasn’t recruited out of Wayzata High.
But then-Gophers coach Glen Mason had two daughters at the school, and he asked his staff for an assessment of Marion.
One assistant told Mason, “He’s good and tough; I just don’t think he’s a Big Ten player.’’
He suggested Marion take the walk-on route.
But Mason turned on the tape, and Marion intercepted Cretin-Derham Hall quarterback Joe Mauer, the All-Star catcher for the Minnesota Twins who was a blue-chip football prospect.
“I’m playing devil’s advocate,” Mason recalled, “and I said, ‘Maybe we should recruit him as a defensive back.’ ”
But his defensive coordinator David Gibbs insisted Marion wasn’t good enough.
“We’re wasting our time,” he told Mason.
So Mason visited with Marion, and he laughed about their conversation.
“I made it clear to him we’re recruiting him as a defensive back,’’ Mason said. ‘‘He didn’t say a word. Not a word. He just looks at me and nods.”
Eventually, against the wishes of his defensive coordinator, Mason offered Marion a scholarship.
“You’ve lost your mind,’’ Gibbs told Mason.
That spring, though, Marion made an appointment to see Mason.
“He said, ‘I want to ask you a favor. I just want a chance to play running back,’ ’’ Mason recalled. “I said, ‘That’s fair.’
“But I didn’t think he’d play for three years. We didn’t think he’d be a star.”
Just 20 minutes into his first practice, though, Marion made an impression on offensive coaches.
“We were wrong,’’ one assistant told Mason. ‘‘This kid is a player.”
In three seasons, Marion Barber gained 3,276 yards on 575 carries, and he’s second in school history with 35 touchdowns and 4,495 all-purpose yards.
Mason said Marion was just shy around certain people but not players.
“He always joked with the other players,” Mason said. “But when you’re a coach or you’re a reporter — outside his inner circle — he becomes very shy.”
But when he visits the Twin Cities, Marion often asks Mason to join him for lunch.
“You’ll never pay for a meal as long as you’re with me,’’ Marion told Mason after their first lunch together.
When the Masons invited Marion over for dinner, he brought an expensive bottle of champagne.
“The interaction is 90 percent Kate and I talking,” Mason said, referring to his wife, “and Marion smiling and laughing.”
Action instead of words
Hurd said one of Marion’s favorite lines is, “Talk is cheap.”
The receiver also suggested that Marion doesn’t talk because of his experience with Dallas-area reporters.
“Sometimes what you say can get misconstrued,’’ Hurd said. ‘‘We saw that happen a lot in Dallas. So he prefers to stay out of that.”
But Dominique said Marion’s reluctance to speak to the media dates back to high school.
“It’s nothing against the media,” Dominique said in August. “He likes to do his talking on the field. Obviously, you have choices, and his choice is not to do that.
“I tell him all the time, ‘Be you.’ ’’
Dominique, on the other hand, enjoys talking.
“I’m little brother, and I support what big brother does,” Dominique said. “But I make my own choices, and I choose to speak to the media.
“That’s just how I am.”
Dominique and Marion talk every day.
“That’s my go-to guy,” Dominique said. “If I’m down or I need some help with something, I know I can always go with big brother.
“It’s great to have him in my corner.”
Dominique will need some support; last week, he suffered a Lisfranc fracture, and he was put on injured reserve.
More than anything, Dominique wants people to know that his brother has a “great heart.” He’s hesitant to mention specific examples because Marion “doesn’t like his business out there.”
But he said Marion donates a lot of money and treats strangers — including homeless ones — to meals.
“The list is really infinite,” Dominique said. “He’s always trying to help somebody.’’