It was lunchtime, and the Barber twins were together in a restaurant on Park Avenue in New York City. Tiki was eating lobster, Ronde a salad, and that was one of the few ways to tell them apart. Tiki is a little heavier; he weighs 200 pounds, 15 more than Ronde. Both of them, though, have shaved heads, their voices sound about the same, and today they were wearing similar outfits: polo shirts and dress slacks. The brothers have a tendency to embellish each other's remarks, and this can make it a challenge to keep up with them. Take when they were talking about their childhood in Roanoke, Va. Their parents divorced when they were three, and their father, J.B., a former Virginia Tech football star, vanished from their lives. Their mother, Geraldine, worked 12 hours a day to provide for them. She received no child support, so there wasn't much money to go around.
Tiki: "We always dressed alike; that's always cute, you know, when twins do that. Maybe a color change here and there, but always the same stuff."
Ronde: "Mostly we had the same clothes, and we didn't have a big selection."
Tiki: "We had only one closet, and there wasn't much in it."
Ronde: "So we'd switch and swap. That's how we got our fashion sense."
Tiki: "There was only one underwear drawer, one sock drawer, maybe three or four jeans to share. We had to..."
Ronde: "...make do, in other words."
Tiki is the one who plays for the New York Giants. He's the running back who last season, in his fourth year in the league, set a franchise record with 2,089 all-purpose yards and helped the Giants reach the Super Bowl. Ronde, who is entering his fifth season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has matured into one of the most aggressive cornerbacks in the NFL. In 2000 he had 82 tackles and 5� sacks. Before proving themselves to be complete players, the brothers were known primarily as third-down specialists: Tiki for catching swing passes and coming up with crucial yardage, Ronde for stepping inside over the slot and rushing the passer.
The twins are 26, live more than a thousand miles apart and enjoy successful careers independent of each other. Yet on this day in New York it took a while before you knew with certainty that Tiki was Tiki and Ronde, Ronde. Things became especially confusing after the waiter removed their plates from the table, and Tiki's lobster and Ronde's salad were no longer there to help. "In college [at Virginia] they weighed the same, so they looked exactly alike," says Tiki's wife, Ginny. "The only way I could tell them apart was that Ronde wore a round earring and Tiki wore a hoop. So I was like, Ronde, round. Ronde, round. Then one day neither of them was wearing an earring, so I had to guess which was which. It took me months to nail it down."
The Barbers are identical twins, which means, biologically speaking, they are essentially one and the same. Born 4� weeks premature, the boys had seizures and suffered from lung ailments as infants. They should not play contact sports, their pediatrician told Geraldine. Even in their earliest days the boys seemed drawn to each other as if by a magnetic force. Place one on the opposite side of the bed from the other, and in minutes they were entwined. "We'd fall asleep, then we'd just gravitate to each other," says Tiki. "My mom has a picture: We're lying on top of each other, and we're like two years old. No bond is equal to the one of being twins, not the bond of marriage, not the bond of a priest with his church. If we don't talk every couple of days, he'll get upset and call me and say, 'Where the hell are you?' "