Having a Ball
Neither did anyone else. To the astonishment of football pundits and fans alike, the Giants, prohibitive underdogs at the start of the season, will be squaring off on Jan. 28 against the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV after winning their ticket to Tampa with a 41-0 rout of the favored Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game. Though the explosively fast Barber, playing with a broken left forearm, didn't have his typical impact—the kind that has led analysts like ESPN's Tom Jackson to call the fourth-year pro "the most important part of his team's offense"—he posted a respectable 69 yards rushing and 21 receiving. "The thing that impresses me most about Tiki is that he's always striving and, in the same breath, that he appreciates what he has in his life," says friend Greg Cornelia, a Giants fullback. "He understands hard work and discipline."
Those were lessons Barber and his identical twin, Ronde, a defensive back for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, learned as boys in Roanoke, Va. Their role model was their mother, Geraldine, who raised them on her own following her divorce from James Barber, a former college football standout at Virginia Tech, when the twins were just 4. Every day Geraldine, now 48, would leave her job as an administrator for the Girl Scouts of America early enough to take the boys to their practices and games; after she put them to bed, Tiki remembers she would head out to work a second job. "I know she made a lot of sacrifices—and a lot we didn't know about," says Barber. "It was a struggle for her."
Growing up, the Barber twins were remarkably close. "They would never tell on each other—never ever!" says Geraldine. "There were occasions where both of them got spanked because I didn't know who had done what." Playing the same sports, though never the same position, the brothers developed a healthy rivalry. At Roanoke's Cave Spring High School (where Tiki's 4.0 average made him one of the valedictorians), Ronde was a national champion hurdler, his twin a sprinter. Tiki was the offensive football star, Ronde the defensive ace. "Whenever Ronde was successful, I was like, 'I'm not letting you beat me!' " says Barber. "I think that's why we've come so far."
The twins continued their friendly competition at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where the pair, both business majors, excelled at track and football. Their gridiron exploits earned them the nickname "The Barbers of C'ville," but the NFL draft was an anxious time for Tiki. He didn't want to be separated from his brother. And he was praying not to have to move far from his college sweetheart, Ginny Cha, who had a year of school left.
As things turned out, fashion-minded Ginny was thrilled when the Giants chose Tiki—far more so than her boyfriend ("I hated it!" he admits). But over time Barber—who shares a spacious Upper East Side condo with Ginny, 24, whom he married in May 1999—has succumbed to the city's charms. "Now I love it because there's so much to do," he says. "It's afforded me a lot of opportunities." Among them: a supporting role in a 1999 Off-Broadway production about twins, Seeing Double.
Not that Barber has been neglecting his day job. After suffering through a slump in his injury-hampered sophomore season, he plunged into a grueling workout regimen with Cornelia. This year the pain brought gains: Barber notched career highs in carries (213), rushing yards (1,006), receptions (70) and receiving yards (719).
Come Super Sunday in Tampa, Barber is hoping he'll be able to shed his protective carbon-graphite arm brace—though it could come in handy against the Ravens' punishing defense. "Yeah, it's going to be a battle! And yeah, I'm expecting to be pounded," says Barber with a laugh. "But you don't get too many opportunities like this." Ronde, who has his own game plan, agrees. "If he loses this year," he says, "then I'll have to go win it next year."
Cynthia Wang in New York City, Joseph V. Tirella in East Rutherford, N.J., and Kristen Harmel in Tampa
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