"The day he was born, when the doctor handed him to the nurse, they put him on his stomach and he was yelling and yelling. He didn't like that a little bit," Barden's father, Al, said from his home in Altadena, Calif. "The next thing I know, he was on his back. I looked at the nurse, she looked at me and I said, 'Did he just do what I think he did?' She said, 'I think so because I didn't do it.'
"He turned over by himself. This happened."
Hard to believe? Sure, but there's a lot about Ramses Barden that requires a leap of faith: A third-round draft pick from a Division 1-AA/FCS college program trying to make it in the NFL, a leader at a position that doesn't produce many, and a well-behaved wide receiver who doesn't have a blemish on his academic, personal or legal record.
At 6-6, 229 pounds, Barden has the size of Plaxico Burress, but not the extra baggage.
"You never worried where Ramses was the night before a game," said Rich Ellerson, Barden's coach at Cal Poly. "And when my phone rang in the middle of the night, I knew it wasn't going to be him on the other end."
A two-time unanimous All-America selection who is one of only three players in Division 1-AA/FCS history to catch more than 50 career touchdowns, Barden will have to make plenty of adjustments to the NFL level, such as learning to beat press coverage against bigger, more physical cornerbacks than he faced in college.
Off the field, however, he already looks and acts like a veteran.
On the first day of the Giants rookie camp, Barden was asked about Burress – everything from whether he's watched him play to if he asked for his jersey number – and he replied, "no comment," with a smile or laugh each time, though he admitted he wanted the No. 11 he wore in college that will forever belong to Phil Simms in Giants blue.
"My pressure is to work hard on the practice field, in meeting rooms and watching film. The rest will take care of itself," said Barden, who impressed at rookie camp before leaving the final practice with a minor hamstring injury. "I'm here for a job and that's to be the best player I can be."
For a while, Barden wasn't a football player at all. His father, who played basketball for NYU, always wanted his son to be "a baller." But when Ramses asked to play football at Flintridge High School, Al said yes, thinking it would help his son get tougher on the court.
A year later, after Ramses spent one season on the JV squad, Al went to watch him play for the first time. The quarterback threw a deep ball and two defenders started sprinting in Ramses' direction.
"I thought to myself, 'They're going to tear him up,'" Al recalled.
"He jumped up, grabbed the ball and knocked both of the other guys down," Al said, still sounding a bit surprised at the result of the play. "He took off for a long touchdown."
From there, Barden's football career took off. Following a state championship as a senior and a stellar academic career – he drew interest from Ivy League schools Penn, Columbia and Cornell – he decided to attend Cal Poly, where he would eventually earn a degree in business administration and marketing from a reputable academic university.
"At Cal Poly we were a bunch of nerds. But we were going to be nerds who kicked your butt and corrected your homework," said Ellerson, who left the school in December to become the head coach at Army. "We were trying to be something different and special. He bought into that, he embraced that, he's the manifestation of it."
Ellerson said Barden was a team leader, which he admitted is rare for wide receivers who are often "the first ones out of the huddle and the last ones back."
"Every three words about our football team the last couple of years included Ramses, Barden or both. He managed that so well," Ellerson said. "He deflected the praise so consistently on his teammates that, whether it was intended or not, he became the voice."
Al always felt his son would be special, which is why he named him after the Egyptian pharaoh – "to give him something that would make him feel different and stand out."
What made Ramses stand out to Ellerson was that he never stood out, as in creating a scene with bad behavior on or off the field. And, of course, no late-night calls.
Except for one this past November, when Barack Obama's election was assured. The son of a retired city employee (who moved to California after seeing "beautiful black people living prosperous lives" while there on a vacation to visit friends) playfully jabbed his Republican coach over the phone.
"His personality, his leadership skills, the quality of the man, he's all the things you want that marquee player to be. He's just that kind of guy," the 53-year-old Ellerson said. "I'd like to think some day I'm going to be that mature and deliberate."
Father Knows Best – Ramses will be Success
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