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Hundreds celebrate, mourn late Gophers running back Marion Barber III

Family, teammates and coaches gathered at the U to celebrate the former running back’s life

Marion Barber III Celebration of Life
Pictures of Marion Barber III are in the background as Paster Efrem Smith spoke at Barber's celebration of life ceremony at Huntington Bank Stadium on Wednesday. Barber died June 1 at age 38.
Courtesy of Gopher Athletics
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MINNEAPOLIS — Dom Barber was the final scheduled speaker at the celebration of life for his older brother and former Minnesota Gophers running back Marion Barber III at Huntington Bank Stadium on Wednesday.

Speaking from the 50-yard line, Dom thanked the abundance of well-wishers, including approximately 400 attendees at the U’s stadium on a sunny and breezy Wednesday. He introduced younger brother Thomas, who stood quietly to his left, as his “sidekick.”

Dom would come to rely on Thomas for emotional support during a 10-minute eulogy about the influence Marion III had, and will continue to have, after he passed away June 1 in Texas at age 38.

Dom’s speech was preceded by former Gophers coach Glen Mason, and former U teammates Thomas Tapeh and Laurence Maroney. All shared the love and respect they had for a selfless, humble, fun-loving and hard-working young man.

“Here’s the thing, many know you (Marion) as that, but I know you as my big brother,” Dom said choking up and physically supported by his brother Thomas. “I remember, as a kid, you would always let me tag along.”

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Now a father to three young children, Dom continued: “I think the hardest part for me is my kids won’t have uncle Marion.”

Dom cried, and again Thomas reached out.

“That’s OK. I know that’s what’s hardest for you, too,” Dom continued. “But I will teach my kids your spirit, your ways. They will know who uncle Marion was and what he was about: Gentle-hearted and loving in God. Your spirit will always be with them, with us.”

The Barber family laid Marion III to rest in a burial Wednesday morning. They waited until after Thomas’ wedding on June 10, which would have doubled as Marion III’s 39th birthday.

“We must love up the bride and groom,” father Marion Jr. texted the Pioneer Press in the days after his eldest boy passed away. Marion Jr., and his wife, Karen, did the same to Marion III on Wednesday. With introductory music from Gary Hines and the Sounds of Blackness, they stood and encouraged everyone else to get on their feet and clap along.

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After prayers, scripture and obituary readings, a segment of the scheduled 90-minute service was set aside for remarks from friends and family. There were famous teammates such as Terrell Owens, a teammate of Barber on the Dallas Cowboys in the mid-2000s, and lesser known ones such as Otis Smallwood, Barber’s backfield mate at Wayzata High School though 2001.

So many speakers lined up that not everyone was able to speak. Those who did mentioned Barber’s character, impact and memories of his playing days. He rushed for 3,094 yards and 35 touchdowns for the Gophers from 2001-04 and made a Pro Bowl in a 4,700-yard career with the Cowboys and Bears.

But there were also brief mentions of hard times after his seven-year NFL career ended in 2011. Dom quoted 2 Corinthians 13:11, which touches on striving for full restoration, encouraging others and living in peace.

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“Bro, the storm is over,” Dom said before he got a hug from Thomas and they took a seat in the front row. When Pastor Efrem Smith spoke about how Marion III “didn’t want to burden mom and dad,” Marion Jr. sobbed and Karen consoled him.

Details on Marion III’s passing are sparse. A Frisco, Texas, police spokesman told the Pioneer Press on Wednesday that they did not have additional information on the cause of death. It’s been more than three weeks since they responded to a “welfare check” at the apartment leased to Barber. His father told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Barber’s body was found in his apartment’s bathroom while the shower was running.

Police did not suspect foul play. Barber Jr. told the newspaper that his son would not have an extensive autopsy and that his brain will not be donated for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) research — the condition believed to be caused by repeated concussions. “He was real specific in his will that he didn’t want that,” Barber Jr. said.

In a short, off-the-cuff speech, Maroney called Marion III his “brother” and also apologized. “I just want to say sorry to you guys,” he said. “The reason I’m saying sorry is because even though I did everything Marion allowed me to do for him, I can’t shake the feeling that there was something more I should have done. I’m sorry because I could have figured out more.”

Tapeh said the phrase “Rest In Peace” has new meaning to him. “It’s not where we want him to be,” he said, “but we can’t be selfish.”

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