Reflections upon the death of Marion Barber III

MGN Marion Barber III

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

—Langston Hughes

In my opinion, one of the most extraordinary families of all time brought their whole family to play football for the University of Minnesota football team. The Barber family, from 1977 to 1980, then from 2001 to 2020, have been on a team. There was a genuine belief that the University of Minnesota is one of the best institutions for their sons. And their parents cheered for their sons at the University of Minnesota football home games and away games.

This journey started with Marion Barber, Jr. in 1976; during that time Mike Jones, who played wide receiver for the University of Minnesota football team, wanted Marion to attend the University of Minnesota. So at 17, Marion was recruited by Mike Jones and another U of M player, Kieth Brown who played strong safety. 

Keith Brown said, “He [Marion Jr.] was one of the best recruits of that time. He was quiet but listening to everything we were trying to tell him about the University and what they can do for him once he graduated.”

Keith also said, “The 1977 freshman class was the best class I’d ever seen, because they had running backs all over the country, linebackers, and wide receivers that we needed like Glenn Howard and Chester Cooper from New Jersey. You had Gary White from Texas and Dana Noel from Chicago, running back Roger Roy Artis lll in that freshman class. Those players were the best I have ever seen at the University of Minnesota. If we had not had those players, we wouldn’t have had a chance to beat Michigan 13 to 0.”

When he joined the team, Marion Barber, Jr. ( the hardest running back I’ve ever seen) was recognized for creating “a whole different way of running through you and around you.”

Marion Barber, Jr. was the Minnesota Gopher who scored the touchdown in a historical game. When Michigan was ranked number one in the nation, he scored the first touchdown and the only touchdown that helped win the game over the number-one ranked Michigan 16-0.

He finished as the record holder for rushing 3,000 yards and 94 rushing touchdowns. He played 34 rushing games in his career. 

Marion was drafted by the New York Jets in the second round and played for them from 1982 to 1988. Marion married a beautiful bride named Karen. They had three sons, Marion Barber III,  Dominique and Thomas.

Life as a Barber has not been easy. Some days it’s like the crystal stair Langston Hughes wrote about. But, you have to keep climbing by doing jobs like working for Hennepin County Juvenile Center and working at Armstrong High School to show other students the best way to be great human beings for this state of Minnesota and the country. 

We know it is so hard to lose a son. Marion Barber III saw his dad play football; he wanted to be like him. Like in the movie Rudy, everybody wanted him to be a football player, work, and go to school where his Dad went—the University of Minnesota.

Marion Jr.  told me, “This is the only place my sons wanted to go was the University of Minnesota.”

Marion III took the first ring and had an outstanding career at the University of Minnesota by pushing the Barber name more and more. I saw him before he got drafted in the fourth round by the Dallas Cowboys; it was so exciting to see him play in the Pro Bowl in 2007.

Dominique Barber played for the University of Minnesota from 2003 to 2007. He made second-team All-Big Ten. He was drafted to the Houston Texans in the sixth round in 2008 as a defensive back; he showed his skills and made his family proud again.

In his four years, Thomas Barber was an outstanding linebacker from 2016 to 2019. He totaled 274 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, four forced fumbles, and seven recoveries. Now Thomas is an assistant coach for the University of Minnesota.

All three Barber sons have provided entertainment, commitment, and inspiration to all who have watched them play for decades. Through the hard times and the good times, the Barber family is still intact, providing inspiration and leadership to all who need their help. Thank you for being the best at this time of profound grief. 

The Barber family has announced that a public celebration of life for former University of Minnesota running back Marion Barber III, who died on June 1, 2022, will take place at the U of M’s Huntington Bank Stadium on Wednesday, June 22 at noon. Gate E (the southwest side of the stadium) will open to attendees at 11:15 am and the service will start at 12 pm. It is expected to last 90 minutes.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Marion S. Barber III Scholarship at the University of Minnesota, College of Education and Human Development. Go here for more info.

Updated 6/24/2022: Corrected the name Roger Roy Artis lll and corrected the name of Marion Barber, Jr’s wife.

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