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Play Mates
John Ed Bradley
July 23, 2001
Ronde and Tiki Barber went their separate ways to make in the NFL, but the bond between these identical twins is as strong as ever
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July 23, 2001

Play Mates

Ronde and Tiki Barber went their separate ways to make in the NFL, but the bond between these identical twins is as strong as ever

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Last October, Tiki watched the Bucs lose 28-14 to the Detroit Lions in a nationally televised Thursday night game. Early in the second quarter Ronde tried to pick up a blocked punt deep in Lions territory and run with it rather than fall on the ball, and the Lions recovered in their own end zone for a safety. The play cost Tampa Bay a chance for a touchdown, and it shifted momentum in Detroit's favor. Upset with himself after the loss, Ronde called Tiki at two in the morning, and Tiki, who'd been lying in bed replaying the blocked punt over and over in his mind, picked up the phone and said, "That'll learn ya. Next time just fall on the damned thing."

"I knew he'd call," Tiki says. "I didn't have to look [at the caller I.D.]. I just knew."

"This is going to sound strange," says Ginny, "but they're so tuned in to each other that they have their own sort of 'twin-speak.' They're low-talkers, and it may sound like a humming noise, but they're actually communicating with each other. You'll be in the car with them, and they're sitting in the front seat and you're in back. You hear something—a sound—but you can't quite make out what it is. They're talking. It gets annoying, and you always end up saying, 'What? What? What did you say?' "

Tiki and Ginny live in a town house on Manhattan's Upper East Side. They attend the theater and the ballet, visit art galleries, picnic in Central Park. Ronde and Claudia live in a house on the 6th hole of Tampa's Westchase Golf Club, and their favorite pastime is to play the course together. After practice during Super Bowl week, Tiki retreated to Ronde's house, often with teammates. "It was the only time I saw Tiki relax," says Cornelia. "He really slows down when he's with his brother. Ronde has a calming effect on him."

In school Tiki was the better student, Ronde the more creative one. On weekends Tiki, the introvert, wanted to stay home and study, while Ronde, the extrovert, wanted to go out and meet girls. Tiki wasn't happy unless he had a 4.0 GPA; Ronde was content with a 3.33. They had bunk beds until their teen years, when each wanted to assert his independence, so Geraldine placed the beds on opposite sides of the room.

The brothers have no relationship with their father, but when they were kids, they would occasionally pull out a photo album and look at pictures of J.B. He was a three-year letterman for the Hokies in the early 1970s and played one season as a running back for the Houston Texans of the World Football League. The twins referred to him as J.B., never as Dad, and years later when they saw him, both would say it was like being introduced to a stranger.

In 1992 Tiki was a 4.0 student at Cave Spring High in Roanoke County. That same year Ronde won the 55-meter high hurdles at a national high school meet. "Letters came in bundles from recruiters," says their friend Vaughan. "Calls rolled in, and then the recruiting visits started."

They were roommates as freshmen at Virginia, and for the next three years they rented an apartment together. They both earned their degrees: Tiki in management information services, Ronde in commerce. The brothers were together that day in April four years ago when their pro careers began. They were celebrating during the draft at a restaurant in Charlottesville with about a dozen friends and family members. Shortly after hanging up with Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy, Ronde asked Tiki to join him in another room. They talked for a few minutes, and when they returned Tiki sat next to Geraldine and put his arms around her. "Quit your job tomorrow," he said.

"I can't do that," said Geraldine, who'd been working as an executive director with the Girl Scout Council in Roanoke.

"Sure you can," he said. "Ronde and I are going to take care of you now."

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