Giants’ beloved athletic trainer Ronnie Barnes joining Ring of Honor
By Charlotte Carroll
Bill Parcells was quiet the morning of Super Bowl XXI.
The Giants coach was at breakfast with Ronnie Barnes, who could tell Parcells was nervous. So the team’s head trainer asked him what was up.
“Oh, I’m just worried about John Elway,” Parcells recalls telling Barnes about the Broncos legend.
The trainer gave the perfect confidence-boosting response.
“We’re going to chase Elway out into the parking lot,” Barnes assured Parcells.
The two men grabbed a taxi, an early morning ritual they often shared no matter the kickoff time, and rode over to Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif. Parcells enjoyed the quiet time and Barnes was a good confidant with whom to discuss the game, in addition to players’ injury statuses.
With a 3 p.m. PT start to the Super Bowl, Parcells had to wait a bit to watch his Giants hound Elway. But by night’s end, they had sacked Elway three times, intercepted him once, and Parcells, Barnes and the Giants left California as Super Bowl champions.
Barnes went on to win three more Super Bowls during his, 47-year career (and counting) with the Giants. But that first one remains special to him. When he first arrived in East Rutherford, N.J., the conversation around the team was centered on the extended suffering of decades without a title. So Barnes understandably feels nostalgic remembering hearing Neil Diamond sing the national anthem and watching the sun set in Pasadena ushering in a new era for the franchise.
“That’s a memory that’s etched in my brain forever,” said Barnes, who is now the team’s senior vice president of medical services.
A constant in the Giants organization over the past half century, Barnes’ work behind the scenes will be celebrated publicly during halftime of Monday night’s matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. He will be inducted into the Giants’ Ring of Honor, joining 49 others who played an influential role in the franchise’s history, including longtime friend Parcells.
“He was a major factor in the history of the franchise,” Parcells told The Athletic. “He’s been the same person for those four Super Bowls. You know, even the equipment people have changed a little bit. The video people change. The owners have changed. I mean he’s been a constant. He’s just a terrific guy. I love him, and that’s the best way I can put it.”
This year’s class also includes former running backs Joe Morris, Ottis Anderson and Rodney Hampton, along with defensive end Leonard Marshall, defensive back Jimmy Patton and halfback/receiver Kyle Rote. While Barnes has earned so many honors over his career, none have encompassed everything he’s meant to the Giants organization quite like the Ring of Honor induction.
“You just just watch the way he carries himself on the field and in the locker room and in the training room, he’s in charge,” Giants president and CEO John Mara told The Athletic. “But he just has a way of dealing with people, getting them to talk to him and to trust him, and it’s just painfully obvious to me and watching the players interact with him, that they do trust them, that they know that he’s going to give them the best possible care.”
Discussions about including Barnes in the Ring of Honor began about a year ago. It was a no-brainer for John and his brothers, Chris and Frank Mara, John said. While players were informed of Barnes’ induction in training camp this summer, Barnes found out in February at his surprise 70th birthday party. The whole Mara family was there, and there was even a gifted jersey bearing the No. 12 — symbolizing his status as “the 12th Mara child.”
“He’s part of the family,” John said.
Barnes spent a lot of time with and developed a close bond with the late Wellington Mara, John’s father and the team’s former owner, as well as Wellington’s wife, Ann Mara.
Barnes regularly attended the family’s annual Christmas Eve party hosted by Ann. She also used to drag Barnes to charity dinners. A couple decades back, Wellington invited Barnes to the Super Bowl as a guest. Now Barnes has attended every Super Bowl since the 1990s, except the during the COVID-19-plagued 2020 season.
Barnes was also there for the Maras during one of the their most painful moments — Wellington’s death in October 2005.
Barnes used to visited Wellington at Memorial Sloan Kettering during his friend’s battle with cancer. After work at the Giants training facilities, he’d spend the night settled into a chair in Wellington’s room — missing few nights over the course of a month, save when there were road games. The old friends would fill the hours with long talks about football, family and life. Baseball was also a topic of conversation. Unfortunately for Barnes, who doesn’t closely follow the sport, the Cleveland Guardians made a late playoff push that year, which meant he had to phone a friend to check in on the team’s success.
Former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi was on the receiving end of a midnight call.
“He says, ‘Mr. Mara keeps asking about Cleveland. I don’t know anything about them,’” Accorsi said with a laugh remembering the call.
Barnes cherishes those final conversations with Wellington: “For me to be there with my friend at the end of his life, it’s impacted my life forever.”
Just as Barnes has constantly shown up for the Maras, his players and so many others within the franchise, there will be a large contingent returning Monday night to honor the trainer who has always been there for them. Barnes was tasked with the difficult decision of choosing a player to present him with a Giants jacket during the ceremony. He selected former kicker Brad Daluiso with whom he forged a close bond over dinners — playing in New York, Daluiso was far from home as a California native. Daluiso often wandered into Barnes’ office, and their relationship bloomed.
“He has touched every athlete that has come through those doors,” Daluiso said. “During Ronnie’s tenure, none of those athletes (in the Giants’ Ring of Honor) would be there without him. … No Giant, I feel, deserves it as much as he does.”
Talking to those in Barnes’ orbit, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t reached out to Barnes to seek his counsel about doctors visits, surgeries, family illnesses and injuries beyond playing days:
• Even though Daluiso is in San Diego, Barnes’ advice and his medical contacts stretch all the way to him in California.
• Accorsi remembers that Barnes stayed in the waiting room until his bypass surgery was complete and the doctor said he was OK.
• Former Giants guard Rich Seubert missed the 2004 season with a broken leg. Not only did Barnes assist with rehab for such a major injury, but he was there for Seubert at 2 a.m. to hook up an IV to help fight the flu ahead of a Monday Night football game. Even in Seubert’s post-playing career, Barnes is still doling out advice to him about his kids’ football and softball injuries.
“He’s the first guy I want to talk to,” Seubert said.
Not only do John Mara and his family turn to Barnes for medical advice, the co-owner will frequently talk with Barnes to get a sense of the team’s mood, too. Mara calls Barnes one of the most respected and revered people in the building.
“He never betrays a confidence,” Mara says. “He always keeps players’ personal information confidential, (and) oftentimes he has the pulse of the team.”
Every time Reggie Scott turns around at industry events, the VP of sports medicine and performance for the Los Angeles Rams gets a kick out of seeing Barnes talking to someone new. It’s always cool to see just how far Barnes’ network extends, he said.
When Scott arrived to the NFL, he knew of Barnes’ status as a widely respected trainer and teacher. Over the years, Barnes became a mentor to Scott. He’s always encouraged the younger athletic trainer, calling to talk shop about handling injuries or discuss Scott’s role as president of the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society. Barnes’ positive reinforcement has helped Scott feel he’s traveling down the right path. When Scott learned of Barnes’ Ring of Honor induction, he mailed a handwritten card of congratulations to New Jersey. He wanted to show respect and recognition to someone who’s done so much for so many.
“This is an athletic trainer, and his name is getting put up in the rafters of a stadium. That’s a big deal,” Scott said.
Being surrounded by the next generation of trainers is one of Barnes’ favorite aspects of the job. Working with Dr. Russell Warren, the Giants senior team physician, the pair have helped train other trainers and team physicians, who are now with NFL teams across the country.
Barnes had a mentor in an orthopedic surgeon himself, Dr. Tyson Jennette, from whom he learned under at Fike High School in North Carolina. Jennette said Barnes absorbed information “like a sponge,” as they worked together.
Barnes was the first African American graduate of the sports medicine department at East Carolina and went on to a job with Michigan State while also pursuing a master’s degree there.
When he landed with the Giants, he arrived as one of the youngest head trainers in the league. He almost didn’t take the offer, enjoying the pageantry of college football. But Barnes now calls the decision to join the Giants the best he’s ever made. His list of accomplishments and honors is long and includes and enshrinement in the National Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame in 1999, along with multiple trainer of the year honors. He was recently inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
Helping the next generation is a legacy he hopes to leave, as he’s tried to set the bar high for sports medicine.
“Because I grew up in the segregated South, I’ve always felt that I had to be a little bit better than everyone else and sustain that in order to to be successful. I hope that by example, that I not only help other minorities, but that I help other people interested in this field,” Barnes said. “Every avenue that I could put my finger on, I’ve tried to be involved in, and I hope that others will try to lead that way.”
As for what Monday’s ceremony means to Barnes as he processes the honor:
“I’m here because of the players and I’m here to help the players,” Barnes said. “I’m a servant of the players. And to be among those greats, I mean it’s the greatest feeling in the world. I’ve probably received every award there is to have in athletic training and sports medicine. And this tops it all.”
Charlotte Carroll covers the New York Giants for The Athletic. She previously covered the University of Connecticut basketball and the WNBA's Connecticut Sun for The Athletic and wrote for Sports Illustrated. She interned at The Denver Post and Field & Stream magazine. Follow Charlotte on Twitter @charlottecrrll