Tough guy Barber retires after 16 seasons: 'I had fun'
A tearful Ronde Barber said what he will miss about not playing football is not the games on Sundays or the fame or adulation from fans.
It's coming to work every single day, one day after another, earning his pay for an honest day of labor for 16 NFL seasons.
"I think the best way to end it is to say, "I had fun,'' Barber said during a press conference at One Buc to announce his retirement. "I loved coming to work every day. Even last year when you (coach Greg Schiano) beat us up. I love football, I'll always love football. But football is just what I did, it's not who I am and I'm ready to move on. I'm ready to do what's next. You turn enough chapters in one book, you finally get to the end, you shut it, put it on the bookshelf and you pick up another book. That's what I'm going to do right now.''
Barber, 38, said he made the decision to walk away from the game a month ago but only began letting family and friends know earlier this week.
"I'd be lying if I said I made it today. I didn't,'' Barber said. "I made it about a month ago. I was pretty certain that it was the right decision.''
The Bucs offered Barber an opportunity to return in 2013. But the seeds of doubt were planted at the conclusion of his meeting with Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik when he shook their hands and assured them he would 'be good either way.'
The Bucs spent the off-season rebuilding their secondary, signing 49ers free agent Dashon Goldson, trading for cornerback Darrelle Revis, restructuring the contract of Eric Wright and drafting Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks.
The last active member of the Bucs Super Bowl XXXVII championship team, Barber said his twin brother Tiki, the former New York Giants running back, was his inspiration throughout his career.
"I had the most motivation any player could have, to have a great twin brother,'' Barber said. "He was my inspiration more than I probably would ever say. I almost wanted him to succeed more than I even wanted myself to succeed. And I love him. I love everything he is and what he has become. But I'm a great football player because he was a great football player and I think he'd say the same about me.''
Barber recounted his journey from a struggling rookie as a third round pick from Virginia who played in only one regular season game before he was thrust into the lineup during a divisional playoff at Green Bay, to the durable five-time Pro Bowl player who made 215 consecutive starts to end his career, the most of any defensive player since the NFL-AFL merger.
"I loved my first year in the league,'' Barber said. "I didn't say it then but I'll say it now. I had a coach in Tony Dungy who I knew believed in me, he's told me since even though I didn't believe it at the time. I had a defensive backs coach in Herm Edwards who was ridiculously in love with my ability to play and he stuck with me. I had a defensive cooridinator in Monte Kiffin who allowed me to become the player I am but let me define the position I played. He had great assistants I'll never forget with Rod (Marinelli) and Lovie (Smith). Mike T(omlin) changed my career. Raheem (Morris), who was one of my best friends and wound up becoming my coach for a few years...I'd be lying if I didn't say I appreciate everything those guys gave me.''
"It was time,'' Barber said. "There were a lot of factors, a lot you can extrapolate on or not. But for me, it was time. What it would take for me to get my body able to take a 17th year of pounding. I woke up not long ago, a month ago or so, when I officially made this decision, it wasn't worth it.
"It's nothing against the guys in this room, signing guys, making moves. It's a neccessity for this organization. I understand that. I respect that. I fought off the competition for years, so it's not about that. This is what I was supposed to do because this is where I am. I'm ready to be home.''
What's next for Barber. He confirmed he will begin a broadcasting career but would not reveal the network. "I'm not ready to say where I'm going,'' Barber said. "I'll be somewhere. I've met with guys (in broadcasting) for the last three or four years. You'll see my mug on TV. I enjoy doing it.''
Barber said what meant the most to him was playing his entire career in one organization.
"It's special,'' Barber said. "I've got a lot of peers here who didn't get that opportunity. They've expressed to me how happy they are that I got to do that...it's been a series of fortunate events for me to stay here, to not get hurt, to be given the opportunity to play, to sign back here. My desire was never to leave. Maybe when I was a free agent the first time, I thought about it. But my desire was to be here, to be a Buc. I love Tampa. Tampa loves me. I couldn't imagine going out any other way.''
How would Barber like to be remembered as a player?
"I'd like them to say, 'that was the toughest dude I ever saw play,'' Barber said. "I was never the biggest, never the fastest but I figured I had to be tough and persevere. That got me through...the guys I played against, my peers that competed against me, I think they knew I was a tough guy.''