TAMPA — They are more like constant companions than competitors. That’s the way it is with twins, although their football paths were anything but identical.
Ronde Barber was born first but it was Tiki who led after that.
In 10th grade, their first year of high school in Roanoke, Virginia, Tiki took over as the starting running back while Ronde sat the bench until the starting safety got hurt midway through the season. He went on to become an all-state defensive back.
In college at Virginia, Tiki wound up playing as a true freshman while Ronde redshirted. The next season, he would lead the nation with eight interceptions and was named the ACC’s Freshman of the Year.
The twins’ separation came in the NFL. Tiki hit it big instantly as the New York Giants running back and opportunities flew at him in the nation’s No. 1 media market.
Ronde sat the bench as a rookie with the Bucs but emerged as one of the NFL’s best defensive backs and was the first to be named to the Pro Bowl and an All-Pro. Tiki was the first to go to a Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens in Tampa but lost. Ronde won Super Bowl 37 against the Raiders.
“I think if you’re trying to big picture it, get a 3,000-foot view of it, it happened that way because that’s the way it always happened with us,” Ronde said.
“The conversation about some of that, and what happened in the pros as well, I always had constant motivation. He was doing something well, I needed to do something well. It wasn’t like I needed to be better than him, it was, ‘Well, if he’s doing that, I can do that, too.’ It’s weird how it paralleled on so many levels because he always seemed to do things first.
“I gave him the rest of it, until I hit my biggest successes and started making All-Pros and Pro Bowls before him. Obviously, it rebounded and went the other way. He was like, ‘Well, Ronde is an All-Pro. I’ve got to be an All-Pro.’ That’s not conscious, but there’s something inherent about us and being twins and wanting to do things the same, even though different. It’s wanting to do things the same that put us in the position we are. It’s an odd thing. I can’t explain it, because I don’t know what it’s like to not have that in my life. That was our expectation of ourselves.”
Tiki refers to himself as the “the less accomplished, more famous twin.”
“I always kind of had success early,” said Tiki, who is a broadcaster for the NFL on CBS and hosts afternoon drive on WFAN. “I figured it out. But he always had to grind. It’s funny because when we talk about our success, it’s almost like failure wasn’t an option. It could’ve happened. I could’ve come back from my PCL injury my rookie season and gotten cut.
“Ronde could’ve gotten cut after not knowing what the hell was going on as a rookie. But it was like, ‘Tiki figured it out, I’ve got to figure it out.’ Ronde figured it out, I’ve got to figure it out. Tiki makes the Super Bowl, Ronde goes and wins the Super Bowl. Ronde makes the Pro Bowl, Tiki goes and is playing in the Pro Bowl. We just kind of always followed each other.”
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On Saturday in Canton, Ohio, Tiki will go first again, if only as the presenter for Ronde during his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ronde, 48, sat in a studio at the AdventHealth Training Center last week after interviewing Bucs coach Todd Bowles as part of his job as the Bucs’ preseason color commentator for television.
He wore a white hat with the number 363 emblazoned on it, representative of his numeric place among pro football’s immortals.
A few weeks ago, his gold jacket arrived in a box at his home. 49ers general manager John Lynch, Barber’s teammate for six seasons, will be on the stage Friday night at the gold jacket ceremony but Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will place the jacket over his shoulders.
The surreal became real for Ronde when he finally started putting pen to paper a couple months ago.
“It got real for me personally when I started writing the speech," Ronde said. “I don’t know if you know, but I’m a procrastinator. Only because I like to feel pressure. I thought about it since February and March. I need to start my speech. Then I thought, I don’t want to be done with my speech in March. I want to feel it. Get finished and tie it up right before I go. I’ve been done with it for a month.
“I’m imagining myself up there reading it. You’re stopping. You’re reading it. Trying it out loud. If I get caught, it will be talking about my mom. She’s a stud. She’s a breast cancer survivor and ... now, she’s been clear for 35 years but learned a lot from her and how she dealt with it. Not just that, but just life. But that will be it if there’s a part I get tied up. But when I finished the speech, it was like, ‘now what?’ You probably saw when the jacket came, that’s when I texted my buddies and said, ‘It’s ... real.’ It’s scripted inside. It’s my jacket. No. 363.”
Different markets, opportunities
Geraldine Hale raised Tiki and Ronde on her own, separating from their father, former Virginia Tech running back J.B. Barber — who went on to play for the Houston Texans of the World Football League — when the boys were only 3 and they were divorced by the time the twins were 4. Ronde and Tiki did not have any relationship with their father as kids and chose not to seek one as adults.
Barber’s mom worked three jobs. She was the director of financial aid and administration at the regional Girl Scout Council. She would return home, get them to football practice, insisting they play on the same team so she could go back to work for another five hours at Executive Suites, doing work for insurance and financial services firms. On weekends, she picked up some hours at a birding store.
Geography played maybe the biggest factor in the direction that Tiki and Ronde’s football and off-field lives traveled. Tiki collected dozens of designer suits and dressed like a Wall Street banker. He was doing hits on television in New York by his second season, and his interests included politics and finance. He acted on Broadway. Tiki was just as likely to lunch with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice while Ronde wore shorts and flip flops headed to work to play with Simeon Rice.
“He had other opportunities. He had big opportunities," Ronde said of Tiki.
On the field, Tiki overcame a reputation as a notorious fumbler ― he lost the ball 23 times from 2002-04 ― to averaging nearly 1,500 rushing yards per season since 2002. Tiki’s best season came in 2005 when he combined for 2,390 yards from scrimmage, second-most all-time. By then, he was fielding offers from Fox to broadcast NFL games and NBC to become a correspondent with the Today show.
Halfway through his best season, he hinted that he might leave football to pursue broadcasting. The following season was his last.
“He was sick of his coach (Tom Coughlin) and he was beat up and just couldn’t do it anymore,” Ronde said. “The position got him. If he had been working with Jon Gruden or somebody like that who knew how to use backs and not give him like 30 touches every single game … maybe he would’ve played longer but he was just beat up and done.”
Ronde, however, had no such plans. His only interest was playing football and loved the kind of player he had become. He also loved who he was playing for: Tomlin, Raheem Morris and Jimmy Lake.
“I had a fascination for what I was doing. By the time Tiki retired in 2006, I didn’t feel anywhere close to being done," Ronde said. “Like, at all. And obviously, I wasn’t. I played six more years. But it was also because I was in a very good situation. I was in a fantastic situation. My relationship with the ownership here. All my coaches had really been from the same line until (Greg) Schiano. The same kind of guys and I was invested heavily emotionally, not only me to them but them to me.
“I remember when Bruce Allen signed me to a new contract. I was 31 years old. It was a six-year contract and I was 31. That doesn’t happen. And it was my most lucrative contract. I got the most money starting at 31 years old and he told me, ‘You’re going to play here as long as you want to.’ ”
Ronde played 16 seasons, the last one moving from nickel cornerback to safety. Along the way, he produced the biggest play in Bucs history, sending his team to the Super Bowl with his 92-yard interception return for a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game at Philadelphia.
Big moments are what Ronde’s career has been about and he will share the biggest one with Tiki on the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“It’s here," Ronde said. “I feel it. And I’m ready for the moment. You know me. Moments don’t bother me. I’m excited for the moment. It’s not like going and playing in a Super Bowl. I know what’s going to happen, but I’m ready for it."
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