Marion Barber

In 2011, Dallas Cowboys RB Marion Barber makes a $500,000 donation of technology equipment to Dallas ISD. The former Dallas Cowboys running back was found dead Wednesday at his home in Frisco.

When the story broke Wednesday that Marion Barber III had died, it didn’t come as a shock.

That didn’t make it any less sad.

After all, he had been struggling off the field for nearly a decade and several folks inside the Cowboys’ organization had expressed sadness over the years that they couldn’t find a way to consistently help him.

In the 27 years I’ve covered the Cowboys, Barber was perhaps the most enigmatic player I’ve ever been around.

Barber rarely spoke to the media even as a rookie. His father, Marion Barber Jr., a running back for the New York Jets, had warned him about the media and he took his father’s words seriously.

It was easy to respect Barber’s stance because he literally never talked on the record.

He didn’t talk, it seemed, after any of his nine 100-yard performances. Or after his 10 two-touchdown performances.

And if the PR department begged, implored or cajoled him to speak, then his answers were usually so brief it rendered the process useless.

Still, I had plenty of non-football conversations with Barber, a voracious reader who enjoyed educating himself.

It reached a point where my conversation starter with him usually focused on whatever book he was reading at the time. Usually, it was some kind of self-help book about being the best version of yourself.

He also had a wicked sense of humor, though he didn’t show it often.

One afternoon, during the height of the “Tony Romo won’t throw anyone but Jason Witten the football” controversy, Barber waited until the locker room was full of reporters interviewing Terrell Owens and started playing The O’Jays classic hit “Backstabbers.”

Pure comedy. Pure genius.

That was the essence of Barber.

He had a terrific NFL career for a fourth-round pick from Minnesota. He gained more than 4,700 yards rushing and scored 53 touchdowns.

He made the Pro Bowl once and gave fans a million memories.

It’s too bad they didn’t get to know the dude off the field — only the player on it.

They would’ve liked him just as much.

JEAN-JACQUES TAYLOR, a former Dallas Morning News SportsDay columnist, is the host of JaM Session Podcast.

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