Marion Barber III, a bruising running back for the Dallas Cowboys who regularly busted into the end zone but whose life took a downward turn after his playing days were over, was found dead on Wednesday in his home in Frisco, Texas, north of Dallas. He was 38.
A Frisco police spokesman said that officers responded to an unspecified “welfare concern” at Barber’s rented apartment and found him dead. In recent years he had run-ins with the police and was once hospitalized for a mental health evaluation.
Barber, whose father, Marion Jr., was a running back for the Jets in the 1980s, had a seven-year career in which he was known for bulling his way through defenders and squeezing out yardage in small spaces. A teammate, the Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens, told The Associated Press in 2007: “He kind of challenges people and dares not to be stopped. It’s sort of barbaric.”
Owens said he gave him the nickname “Marion the Barbarian,” and it stuck.
Bill Parcells, who coached the Cowboys from 2003 to ’06, told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday that Barber “was almost like a perfect player,” adding, “He could run, block, he could catch, he was tough and he was always there.”
Barber rarely started in his first three seasons but soon made himself an integral part of the Cowboys’ offense. In 2006, his second season, he gained 654 yards and led the National Football Conference in touchdowns with 14, nine of them from three yards or less.
In 2007, he ran for 975 yards and 10 touchdowns and was chosen for the Pro Bowl after a season in which he never started a game but outgained the Cowboys’ starting running back Julius Jones by nearly 400 yards. In the postseason, Barber started in the Cowboys’ 21-17 playoff loss to the Giants, running 27 times for 129 yards.
“When Marion Barber II runs,” Greg Bishop wrote in The New York Times in 2008, “dreadlocks flap past his shoulders from behind his helmet. His legs churn at a frightening speed, twin jackhammers working in tandem to punish and propel.”
Barber had solid seasons in 2008 and ’09 but with Felix Jones the primary running back the next season, Barber gained only 374 yards. He was released before the 2011 season and signed with the Chicago Bears, for whom he played his final season as a reserve.
Overall, he gained 4,780 yards on 1,156 rushes. His 47 rushing touchdowns with the Cowboys place him fourth on the team’s career list.
His post-playing years were troubled. In 2014, Barber was detained by the police in Mansfield, Texas, also outside Dallas, and hospitalized for a mental health evaluation.
And according to police reports, he was arrested in 2019 on two misdemeanor counts of criminal mischief for incidents that occurred the year before in which, while he was out jogging, Barber approached two different cars and struck and damaged them. He pleaded no contest, and his sentence included 12 months of probation.
Last year, the former Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant posted a highlight reel of Barber’s plays on Twitter and wrote that “he’s down and out bad … we are just a stat and moments to most people.”
On Monday, Bryant wrote on Twitter: “Too much to digest, so much too say … This is real life, it can be any of us. We need each other, we need unity.”
Marion Sylvester Barber III was born on June 10, 1983, in Plymouth, Minn., west of Minneapolis. Like his father, Barber played at the University of Minnesota, where he was part of a powerful backfield with Laurence Maroney. Barber rushed for 1,196 yards and 1,269 yards in 2003 and 2004.
The Cowboys selected him in the fourth round of the 2005 N.F.L. draft.
Football was a family business for the Barbers. In addition to his father, Barber’s brothers Thomas and Dominique also played for the University of Minnesota Gophers. Dominque was a defensive back with the N.F.L.’s Houston Texans.
In a statement on Thursday, P.J. Fleck, the Gophers’ head coach, said, “Marion was one of the best to ever play at Minnesota, and he is a big reason many people are Gopher fans today.”