COMMENTARY | Severing the final link to the Super Bowl championship season of 2002, veteran Tampa Bay Bucs defensive back, Ronde Barber, announced his retirement on Thursday, May 9, after a celebrated 16 year career. The longtime player held back tears, as he offered words of gratitude to coaches, family, and teammates during a press conference to reveal the decision at One Buc Place. In response, Bucs' fans have widely expressed appreciation for Barber's accomplishments and appear overwhelmingly convinced his next stop will come at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Speculation on the plans of the 1997 third round pick had become an annual rite of spring for the Bucs, since Barber publicly toyed with hanging up his cleats for several seasons. Once a critical component of a fierce defense, which included equally note-worthy players Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch, Barber competed at a high level until the end, long after former teammates had concluded their own careers.
Yet, the offseason delivered extensive changes to Tampa Bay's highly-criticized defensive secondary, making the timing of his decision prudent. With free agent addition Dashon Goldson set to assume Barber's final role at safety, his longtime spot at corner will be inherited by both Darrelle Revis and Johnthan Banks. While Tampa Bay traded its first round draft selection for Revis, a four time Pro Bowler and one of the best players at the position in the league, the team used a second round pick on Banks, who claimed the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top collegiate defensive back in 2012.
Though recent performance -- including last year's 4 interceptions and 70 tackles -- demonstrated Barber could still play, the 38 year-old understandably lacked a willingness to accept a role off the bench and also did not want to deny his only team the chance to groom a replacement properly.
Best remembered for a game-clinching interception of Donovan McNabb during the final moments of the 2002 NFC Championship Game, Barber's "pick-6" propelled the Bucs into Super Bowl XXXVII, where the team triumphed 48-21 over the Oakland Raiders. Certainly the high point of the University of Virginia product's career, Barber capably represented the club off the field, while proving a fan favorite for the duration of his time in Tampa Bay.
Noted for thriving within the squad's "Tampa 2" coverage schemes, Barber lacked blistering speed and ideal height. Nevertheless, the cornerback consistently proved a dependable defender, possessing both a knack for the ball and consistent ability to tackle those handling it. Barber further enjoyed attacking the quarterback directly and became known for disguised corner blitzes.
In fact, with 47 interceptions and 28 sacks, Barber impressively serves as the only player in league history to grab at least 40 career picks and rack up 25 career sacks. Unlike the majority of top level peers, the cornerback seemingly took pride in special teams and excelled at such grunt work throughout his lengthy career. Invariably coming up with a loose ball, Barber racked up an eye-popping 14 non-offensive touchdowns, which is fourth most in NFL history, behind only Deion Sanders, Devin Hester, and Rod Woodson.
In recognition of his stellar play, Barber was selected to five Pro Bowls, named as an All-Pro on three occasions, earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors nine times, and placed on the NFL's All Decade Team for the 2000's.
If those achievements alone were insufficient for enshrinement in Canton, Barber further showed a durability that few players in history can rival. The cornerback dressed for 241 career games, not missing a single contest due to injury since 1999. Barber even started a stunning 215 consecutive games from 1999-2012, a tally that only kickers are likely to match in the rugged NFL.
At his farewell press conference, Barber poignantly told the assembled crowd, "I had fun. I loved coming to work every day. I love football."
Indeed, only such passion for a grueling game could drive a player to achieve exponentially more than what was expected for an undersized third round pick 16 years ago. While his twin brother, Tiki, captured headlines for several dynamic seasons as featured back for the New York Giants, this stalwart will instead be remembered as one of the most steady and consistent players of his time. Usually flashing a big smile, especially when finding his way to the ball or to the quarterback, Ronde Barber's love for football was apparent and Bucs fans are grateful to have benefited from that emotional play.
Many believe the affable Barber will next find his way into the broadcast booth, where teammates Sapp and Lynch have already enjoyed success.
While supporters may enjoy such an opportunity, the retirement of Barber is bittersweet in that it officially ends a fun era of Bucs' football. Though the team has not been successful in recent years, and its reputation for toughness from a Monte Kiffin led defense has long disappeared, memories of that winning era remained whenever Barber took the field, just as he did on a winter day in 2003 for the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia's old Veterans Stadium.
With an appreciation for past success, and a reshaped Bucs' defensive secondary to admire in 2013, the time to move on has certainly arrived. Next stop: Canton, Ohio.
More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.
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