Dom Barber and James Laurinaitis were born within a few months of one another in 1986 and met when they were “7 or 8,’’ Dom said.
“James said to me, ‘My dad is a professional wrestler,’ and I said, ‘My dad played in the NFL,’ ” Barber said. “A little bragging about our dads, and we’ve been best friends since.’’
Marion Barber Jr., Gophers star and New York Jets running back for seven seasons, and Joe Laurinaitis, “Animal’’ from the superstar Road Warriors tag team, also became friends through watching kids in athletics in the Wayzata school district.
“Joe became a second dad for me,’’ Dom said. “I was so close to him that I called Joe’s parents ‘Grandma’ and ‘Grandpa.’ This is raw for all of James’ friends right now.’’
Joe Laurinaitis died Tuesday at 60. The wrestling world lamented his passing as a great competitor and showman with the face-painted “Legion of Doom.’’ He was partnered with Road Warrior Hawk — that being Michael Hegstrand, who died at 45 in 2003.
Joe is remembered differently by a legion of friends of oldest son Joe Jr., daughter Jessica and James, the linebacking star at Ohio State and then with the St. Louis Rams.
“I just remember Joe as being ‘present,’ ” Barber said. “If James had friends in the pool, Joe would get his workout in by picking us up and throwing us high out of the water.’’
Laurinaitis coached James’ youth football teams from fourth to eighth grade. David Gaither was a volunteer head of Wayzata youth football then.
“You don’t see guys who are 6-foot-1, 300 pounds, but also cut,’’ Gaither said. “Joe would walk over to those fourth- or fifth-graders and their eyes would get huge. He was never ‘Animal,’ though; he was a coach they all came to love.
“We did take advantage of Joe for a poster. He got tricked out in his costume, surrounded by James and other kids in their uniforms. The message was, ‘You don’t have to be an Animal to play football.’ ”
• Barber and Laurinaitis were hockey teammates, including Wayzata’s state bantam champion in 2002. “We were loaded: Blake Wheeler, Joey Miller, Kurt Davis, Kevin Wehrs, Tony Lucia, and others,’’ Barber said.
• Barber: ”We’re all dads now, focused on our kids. I have three and James has … 2½, two here and one on the way.’’
• Dom played four NFL seasons. Older brother Marion III scored 59 TDs in seven NFL seasons. Youngest brother Thomas was a third outstanding Gopher and a senior linebacker in 2019.
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