"I feel like I'm getting lonely if I don't talk to Tiki," says Ronde. "I don't know how to explain it. It's a mystery."
"They were always close," Geraldine says. "At some point when they were little they figured out, 'Hey, this is my brother, it's not another me,' and from then on they stood up for each other. One never ratted out the other. If something went wrong at home, they would both take the punishment rather than have one get in trouble."
As a newborn, Ronde, the older of the two by seven minutes, was about an inch longer than Tiki, and his feet were a little bigger. That wasn't enough for the babysitter to distinguish one boy from the other, so before leaving for work in the morning, Geraldine would write Tiki's name on the bottoms of his shoes and Ronde's on the bottoms of his. To further guard against confusion, their mother checked them for birthmarks.
Asked to reveal the location of the marks, Geraldine says, "Now, that's private. But I know where they are."
"I'm walking down the street today," Ronde was saying at lunch, "and I can feel everybody staring at me. I'm trying to act like I don't notice. But they're all going, 'Tiki! It's Tiki! There's Tiki!' You have to remember: At the moment Tiki is a big deal in New York. So I start thinking that maybe I should say something or do something that would make him look bad, you know? That would hurt his reputation. People are stopping me, wanting to talk. I'm tempted. But finally I say, 'No, I'm not Tiki. I'm Ronde.' They all look at me, then go, 'Oh.' "
This much is certain: Theirs is no ordinary brotherhood. What's most amazing is how the arc of one twin's history parallels that of the other, even after the pursuit of NFL careers forced them to move away from each other after they had lived together for 22 years.
Tiki went in the second round of the 1997 draft, Ronde in the third. After four mediocre years as a pro, returning punts in addition to catching third-down passes, Tiki broke out in 2000. In March he signed a new contract that will pay him $25.5 million over six years. Likewise, Ronde came on strong last season and developed into one of the league's elite defensive backs, playing in a secondary that ranked first in the NFC against the pass. In April he agreed to a six-year, $18.5 million deal with the Bucs.
When teammates and coaches talk about the Barbers, the quotes are so similar that they could apply to either player. Here, for instance, is Giants fullback Greg Cornelia on Tiki: "I bet you can't show me a more ambitious athlete in professional sports. This kid is competitive as hell. He loves winning, and he thrives on being the best. Off the field it's the same thing. He works just as hard at his marriage as he does at football. Whatever Tiki does, he throws his heart and soul into the project, and he's never satisfied. He's a perfectionist."
Now here's Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin on Ronde: "He's incredibly competitive, and he's a tremendous worker. He's a real team player. He'll do anything to win. He's what you want. After practice he comes off the field and goes back to the video room and waits for the tape to be done. He watches the tape of practice before he even showers. He wants to see if he's made any mistakes. He's a perfectionist that way."
Following the '99 season the Giants selected Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne of Wisconsin with the 11th pick of the draft. At the start of training camp last year Tiki was penciled in as the starter, but everybody assumed Dayne was being groomed to take over the job in time for the regular-season opener—everybody but Tiki, that is. On the first day of camp he said to Cornelia, "I'm starting this year, Co. There's no doubt in my mind." As an inside-outside combination, Dayne and Tiki became known as Thunder and Lightning. It was Tiki, however, who started 13 games, and while Dayne got 15 more carries than Tiki did during the season, Tiki rushed for 1,006 yards to Dayne's 770 and caught 70 passes to his counterpart's three.