Running backs usually take a pounding rather than deliver one. But Marion "The Barbarian" Barber brings a defensive attitude to the Cowboys offense. At six feet, 225 pounds, dreadlocks flowing from his helmet, the only thing scarier than having Barber run at you full speed is seeing him raise his hand to deliver a stiff-arm. How did the 25-year-old back go from fourth-round afterthought in 2004 to Pro Bowler in 2007? Well, according to family, friends, opponents and teammates, he ran over everything in his way.
DOMINIQUE BARBER, younger brother, Texans safety
Growing up in Minneapolis, we'd play football in the house. Instead of using mouth guards, we'd bite down on pickles. His favorite running back was Barry Sanders—he had posters of him in his room, and we even got his autograph once. He really wanted to be elusive like Barry.
MARION BARBER JR., father, former NFL RB
Marion played soccer until the fourth grade, when children in our area are allowed to play tackle football. On his very first play, he took a handoff from his own 20-yard line to the house. But defense was where it was happening for him; he liked to hit. Once, he hit a kid coming across the field square in the chest. The other coach was jumping up and down arguing that it was an illegal hit, but an official came over to Marion and said, "That was a good hit. Keep playing that way."
JAMES LAURINAITIS, childhood friend, Ohio State LB
He used to have a weightlifting belt that he spray-painted "NWO" on. He always loved practicing wrestling moves, especially on me, because my father was a pro wrestler. [Ed.'s note: Laurinaitis' father, Animal, was half of the WWE's Road Warriors tag team.] We'd have sleepovers, and Dom and I would pull pranks on him. Marion would get upset and give us both backbreakers to make sure we were in pain. He was always a physical specimen.
BRAD ANDERSON, football coach at Wayzata High
We have this competition called the Trojan Olympics, where we put the varsity football players through a variety of tests: weight training, physical agility, speed. I've been coaching at Wayzata for 15 years, and a senior's won it every year—except for when Marion was there. He won it his sophomore, junior and senior years. That's unheard of.
JOE MAUER, former QB at Wayzata rival Cretin-Derham Hall High, current Twins catcher
My senior year I threw four picks, and Marion had two of them. We had this timing play where the receiver would run a 10-yard out toward the sideline, and when I hit my fifth step, the ball came out. One time I hit my fifth step, and I could see Marion breaking. I tried to throw the ball away, but he cut in front and picked it off six inches from the turf. Unbelievable play.
GORDY SHAW, former O-line coach at Minnesota, Barber's alma mater
They didn't call him Marion the Barbarian back in high school, but that was always his mentality. He would just destroy people when he tackled them.
GLEN MASON, FORMER head coach at Minnesota
When we recruited him, he was just MB III. Nobody was recruiting him, because he didn't have topflight speed for a DB, and most people didn't think he projected as a Big Ten player. We gave him a chance out of respect for his father, who'd played at Minnesota. Even then, we were looking at him as a DB. Before school started, he asked if he could play running back. Fifteen minutes into our first practice, our running backs coach came up to me and said, "We made a mistake on this guy. He's the real deal."
He was overlooked out of high school. He never mentions it, but that motivates him. He wants to prove everybody wrong. That's why he runs with so much attitude.
MARLIN JACKSON, former Michigan DB, current Colts CB
In college he was the same way: breaking tackles, running through or over you. I remember I was manning centerfield from the safety position, and he broke through the line. I came down the middle on an angle and went for his leg, but he broke right through me for a 45-yard run. He's so strong that it's hard to tackle him one-on-one. Defensive linemen can't do it. Linebackers can't do it. And here I am, a safety, trying to do it.
Now, as a pro, he's all about his stiff-arm. It's like Apollo Creed throwing that hook in Rocky. It's lethal.
MARION BARBER JR.
I had a pretty serious stiff-arm. I ain't boastin' on that. Growing up in Detroit, we used to call it the Bodacious Bone or the Flipper. But his thing is above and beyond what I was doing.
We played Dallas last year in the preseason, and on the second or third drive, he ran left and broke two or three tackles. He was just getting his balance back, and I'm thinking I'm going to get a good hit on him. All of a sudden, he hits me with one of the hardest stiff-arms I've ever felt. I tried to grab him around the waist, but I ended up sliding under him and having to trip him. I had to use every muscle in my body just to get him down.
GERALD ALEXANDER, Lions safety
He's a beast. Last year in Week 14, we were in a Cover 2, and he came straight up the middle. I read the run extremely fast and came in on an angle. I just tried to shoot my gun, as they say—tried to make a tackle and wrap him up. He wiggled his way out. I had him in my hands, but he just kept going. And how about that New England play from last year? [Ed.'s note: YouTube "Marion Barber Patriots."] The Pats almost got a safety, but Marion shrugged like eight or nine guys off and still gained two yards. That is one very determined runner.
CHAD GREENWAY, Vikings LB
As vicious as any runner in the league. When you run downhill to hit somebody, you want to be the one making contact. With him, it feels like he's bringing the load to you.
DeMARCUS WARE, Cowboys LB
I get pumped up when I see him running a guy over. Makes me feel like I need to get out there and knock somebody down myself.
E.J. HENDERSON, Vikings LB
He's the toughest back in the league to tackle. Dude's for real.
MARION THE BARBARIAN
Does my nickname fit? What do you think?