Barber will tie Brooks for the most games played in Bucs history Saturday
Ronde Barber's greatest play, a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown to clinch the NFC Championship game in Philadelphia, came despite playing with the worst injury of his career. Five weeks earlier, Barber tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a game at Detroit.
"I try not to care about injuries, to be honest with you,'' Barber said. "If I can go through it, I go through it. I had a few this year that I've played through and dealt with.''
At 36, Barber is one of the NFL's iron men. On Saturday at Carolina, Barber will play in his 224th NFL game, tying retired linebacker Derrick Brooks for the most in team history. He could stand alone with that distinction by playing at Atlanta Jan. 1.
Barber was unaware of the milestone until informed by a Bucs' staff member.
"It's a reward for consistency, I guess,'' Barber said. "I do have a high pain threshold.''
Barber said he missed a bowl game at Virginia when he stepped in a hole during practice in Shreveport, La., and broke his foot. He missed three games in high school with a broken collarbone. But he has never missed a game because of injury in nearly 15 pro seasons.
"That's unbelievable,' coach Raheem Morris said of Barber's games played mark. "Way before Saturday, he would have already had a significant role with one of the premier plays that we all remember in Buccaneers history, talking about the interception in Philadelphia in 2002 and really sealing that game away to send us to the Super Bowl.
"Ronde, without a doubt, in Buccaneer history, is one of the greatest and arguably in NFL history. He certainly is one of those guys. He's an iron man, our Cal Ripken, Jr., so to speak.
"He's more interested this year trying to figure out how to get wins.''
Barber contemplated retirement after the 2010 season but decided to sign a one-year, $4-million contract. Barber and the Bucs will evaluate his future sometime during each off-season.
"If Ronde wants to play, we're going to likely want to have him back,'' Morris said. "I put a lot of pressure on (Bucs GM) Mark (Dominik) when I say that, but good. It's not he's slowed down. If he has the ability to play and we can work out a deal, I'm sure we'll do those things. He's just one of those type of guys.
"He told me, I should be the first person to tell him he can't play. And when I tell him that, he said he'll walk away. I'm not prepared to tell him that yet because I'm actually finding more roles for him to do.''
Morris says Barber's work out regimen and diet have contributed to his longevity.
"Ronde is one of those guys who takes care of his body,'' Morris said. "He eats the right things, does the right things, practices the correct way. He doesn't want to miss practices. He wants to go through his various stretches. In the off-season, he has a plan and sticks to it. In the off-season, he doesn't run laterally, he runs straight. He doesn't make a cut until OTA days and then he starts to make cuts and gets his knees right, starts to get everything right, how his body is supposed to feel, and he gets ready for that mental ground. It's mentality before reality and there's no person who sets that bar than Ronde Barber.''
Despite the Bucs' eight game losing streak, Barber's production hasn't fallen off. He's fourth on the team with 72 tackles and leads the club in interceptions with three. Not that he's satisfied.
"No. You can always do more, especially when you're losing,'' Barber said. "I'd be lying to myself if I said I felt good about it.''
As always, Barber will be asked to play a significant role in his record-tying game Saturday at Carolina. With cornerback Aqib Talib placed on injured reserve with a hamstring strain, Barber will draw Panthers receiver Steve Smith in coverage.
"We're very familiar,'' Barber said of Smith. "It's mutual respect. It's a good thing. I love the way he plays, I love the way he's playing now. I don't like him when he's having down years, but I kind of liked it when he didn't have a quarterback. He has a quarterback, now, it's fun to watch him play. I wish we didn't have to play him twice.''