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But Tiki wants America to wake up to Tiki, not to Matt Lauer. The strange thing is, the more time you spend with him, the more you feel that his goal is attainable. If you had to engineer an American television news personality in a laboratory, you might come up with someone like Tiki Barber: nonthreatening, articulate, funny, intelligent, self-aware and hugely self-confident without seeming like an egomaniac. And then there is his diction, which is ethnically and geographically neutral, perfect for a news anchor. "We grew up in a white middle-class community and had a mom who emphasized education and lived that neutrality," Tiki says. "She didn't speak that typical African-American diction."
Geraldine Hale, now 53, raised the two boys on her own in a rented Tudor-style town house on Mews Hill Drive in Roanoke, Va. There were two second-floor bedrooms, and downstairs was a little kitchen, a dining room and a living room with black leather sofas, a blue-gray carpet and a console cabinet on which Geraldine arranged Tiki's and Ronde's ever-growing collection of trophies and awards. Geraldine and J.B. Barber, a former Virginia Tech running back who rushed for 2,052 yards in college and went on to play with the Houston Texans of the World Football League, were separated when the twins were three and divorced when they were four. The twins did not have a relationship with their father growing up and have chosen not to seek one as adults.
Geraldine worked three jobs to support the family. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays she was the director of financial aid and administration at the regional Girl Scout Council. She returned home, cooked dinner for the boys, got them ready for bed and then went back to work for another five or six hours at Executive Suites, doing clerical work for insurance companies and financial service firms. She also worked part time on weekends at a birding store.
"As we began to get older," Tiki says, "we realized how hard it was on my mom to have provided for us. We never wanted for anything. My mom sacrificed her entire life, basically. Look, I don't care about the marriage--50 percent of marriages don't work--but you can't just run out on the kids like my dad did. So my mom worked three jobs. At some point I should talk to him about this, but I'm just not ready to."
There is a great deal of Geraldine in Tiki and Ronde. She is a devout Baptist and a fierce believer in education as the key to success--she earned an M.B.A. from Averett College when the boys went off the University of Virginia. "I made a decision when I divorced that I was not going to make the kids pay for the decisions I had made," she says. "That meant doing everything I could so they could still experience the world. By the time my dad died, when I was 15, I had lived in six states and in two cities in Germany, so I had seen the world. [Her father, an Army major, was killed in Vietnam in 1967.] It was important to me that the boys see different cultures, different ways of life. I would take them visiting different people, Asians, African-Americans, whites. They would visit different churches. Education is absorbing a little piece of everybody with whom you've come into contact."
That emphasis on worldliness is one of the reasons why Tiki Barber is probably the only NFL player who is reading Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf's autobiography, In the Line of Fire, or who was invited by former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres to visit Israel last spring. (Barber and Peres met at a New York City restaurant in 2005.) Yet Tiki and Ronde are more than just cultural chameleons, able to adapt to different situations and environments; they both possess an appealing self-assurance that makes even those around them more at ease. That steady, unobtrusive self-esteem makes them locker-room leaders and comes through the TV screen during Tiki's Tuesday-morning Fox & Friends appearances. Steve Tisch, co-owner of the Giants and producer of numerous hit movies, including Risky Business and Forrest Gump, compares Tiki's charisma with that of an actor rather than an athlete. "Tiki has a smile and poise like only one actor that I've worked with," he says. "Tom Cruise."
But where does the confidence come from? Besides having such a devoted mother, being recognized early on as excellent athletes certainly helped the boys. But not every NFL player can sit down on a TV news set and, as Barber has done, pontificate on North Korean nuclear weapons or interview the prime minister of Iraq. Geraldine believes that the fact that Tiki and Ronde always had each other gave them a great sense of personal security, particularly when facing the complex challenges of growing up black in a predominantly white community. "They would say as kids, 'As long as I've got my brother here, everything will be O.K.,'" their mother says. They relied on each other for almost everything, from doing their schoolwork to critiquing each other's football technique to keeping each other company when Geraldine was working late. (When Tiki's fumbling problems threatened to derail his football career, it was Ronde he turned to for advice about whether to make the major changes his new coach was advocating. "You know what?" Ronde said. "They're right.")
Until just a few years ago the brothers spoke on the phone or in person every day. Now, with both of them busy raising kids, they find time to talk only every few days. Many identical twins describe the sense of completeness they get from each other. Lawrence Wright, author of Twins: And What They Tell Us about Who We Are, says it's a feeling of having "someone who understands me perfectly, almost perfectly, because he is me, almost me."
Tiki says his twinship is a central pillar of his success. "I knew there would always be one person who would never be a bad guy to me," he says. "It really makes a difference."
"Even if there was nobody else," echoes Ronde, "we always had each other--to hang out with, do homework, share life."