Teammates, coaches celebrate Barber's career
Ronde Barber was leaning toward retirement a few weeks ago when he sought some advice from former Bucs safety John Lynch.
“We talked a couple of times throughout the off-season like we always do about where his mind was at and I just let him know he couldn’t make a bad decision,'' Lynch said. "I thought he had options to play and Ronde is a smart guy and brings a lot to the table away from the field and I know there’s going to be people after him in the broadcast world. There are multiple things he can do and I didn’t think he could go wrong and I let him know that. I had a sense a couple weeks ago when I spoke to him it was probably coming to an end. He was enjoying golf too much.
“This should be a big day of celebration for a tremendous, tremendous football player. And how rare is it in this day and age that he gets to finish his career in the same place it started? That was something that was important for Ronde. He got to do that.''
Barber told Jay Glazer of Fox Sports Wednesday that he was retiring after 16 seasons.
The Bucs offered Barber a chance to return in 2013 but at a reduced role. After having the worst pass defense in the NFL last season, Tampa Bay revamped its secondary. They signed 49ers free agent Dashon Goldson, traded for Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, signed cornerback Eric Wright to a one-year, restructured contract and drafted Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks in the second round.
Lynch said Barber, who switched to safety last season and led the Bucs with four interceptions, would've been able to play well at age 38.
"The fact that he still had something left in the tank...I think it’s always good to leave when you’ve still got a little left,'' Lynch said. "He’s not being forced out, he’s making a decision. Some people would say with all the moves they’ve made, there’s no place for him. But believe me, there’s always a place for a guy like Ronde and I think coach Schiano would tell you that and I know from talking to them, they wanted him back in a specific role. To be able to make that decision on your own terms is a really exciting thing for him. I’m happy, I’m proud of him.''
Former Jets and Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards was Barber's first defensive backs coach when the Bucs took the cornerback from Virginia in the third round in 1996.
"Once you get past 10 years, you’re really beating father time. He’s done a remarkable job with his availability and it says a lot about who he is,'' Edwards said. "Ronde likes football. To play that long, you have to have a passion about playing football. Along with being healthy, the great thing about Ronde is that he’s been on one team. That’s hard to do, boy. You play that long, in today’s world, it’s difficult to stay on one team and that says a lot about him, his ability to adjust to coaching. He has the most longevity of any Bucs player. He probably would’ve played more games if he had played early in his career, but I didn’t let him play.
Barber played in only one regular season game as a rookie until Edwards decided to start him in an NFC playoff game at Green Bay.
“He came into the first training camp so out of shape,’’ Edwards said. “I said, “Are you kidding me? People are looking at me like, you signed off on this guy?’ I was on him but in a good way because I knew Ronde was going to be a good player. His football intelligence was very good. He had great eyes and instincts, which are critical to play the position. I knew he could go inside and play nickel and that right there, you have to be a different guy.’’
“He was good at blitzing, he was good at faking the blitz and getting back in coverage. He had great recognition as far as pattern awareness. When we played Tampa 2, with all the checkdowns, you had to have great tacklers and there was Ronde and Derrick Brooks. You knew those two guys were going to make tackles. He could play corner and he also could play safety, which he did his last year.''
Barber started 215 consecutive games, a testament to his toughness. Lynch said few players or coaches knew that Barber played with a torn posterior cruciate ligament in the NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles and in Super Bowl XXXVII in Jan. 2003.
"I don’t think anyone knew it,’’ Lynch said. “Ronde and I were close and he confided in me that he had torn his PCL that year. I think (Mike) Tomlin and (trainer) Todd (Toriscelli) knew and no one other than that. If you go back and watch that video of his interception return, he wasn’t striding. It was a gallop. We laugh about that. He was one tough SOB.
“A lot of guys would miss practice and had the ability to show up on Sunday. Ronde never wanted to miss practice. There was something special about him and a lot of it came from the fact he had a giant chip on his shoulder.''
Lynch said Barber revolutionized the slot corner position in the nickel defense.
“I think Aeneas Williams played it prior to him and I’m sure other people played it,'' Lynch said. "But I think in terms of the things you could do from that position and just the skill set to be able to succeed in there, I always marveled that he was 185 pounds and he could go in there and bull rush a 310 pound offense guard and put moves on him and then go up against a 240-pound back or shifty backs covering the slot. He just had a great skill set for that. You can define guys by positions, but he was just a football player. Tomlin used to talk about MAD plays, Make a Difference plays. That’s what Ronde was all about, making plays that made a difference.’’