TAMPA — He would have played. Of course, he would have played again.
Had Bucs coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik told Ronde Barber in March they were counting on him to be a starter at age 38, he probably would have pulled on the pads in 2013.
"It would've made the decision (about retiring) a lot harder," Barber said Thursday. "There's a good chance that yes, I probably could've made a different decision. But that wasn't the case. I'm not averse to competition. They've been trying to replace me for years.
"If I wanted to come back with the guys they brought in, I would've found a way."
Barber, who started his last 215 games, is the Bucs' iron man, all right. A cornerback for 15 seasons and safety for his last one, he has a steel plate in his arm, a plate in his thumb and six pins in his foot. But the dollars and desire no longer are in abundance.
"When that meeting broke up, I told them I was probably good either way," Barber said. "That's probably not the answer I should've been giving."
Schiano noticed the change.
"The year before, it wasn't that," Schiano said. "I didn't have any concern when he said that. But he said it at the end of our conversation, and I kind of was like, 'Hmm.' "
At a news conference at One Buc Place filled with family, former teammates and coaches, a tearful Barber announced his retirement. He said he decided about a month ago. But not wanting to interrupt free agency, the trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis, the draft and Warren Sapp's selection to the Ring of Honor, he kept it a secret until Wednesday.
The last active member of the Super Bowl XXXVII title team said he will miss not just Sundays but coming to work day after day as one of the league's most durable players.
"I think the best way to end it is to say, 'I had fun,' " Barber said. "I loved coming to work every day; even last year when (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 said twin brother Tiki, the former Giants running back, inspired him throughout his career.
"I almost wanted him to succeed more than I even wanted myself to succeed," he said. "I'm a great football player because he was a great football player, and I think he'd say the same about me."
Barber, a third-round pick out of Virginia in 1997, recounted his journey from a struggling rookie who played in only one game before being thrust into the lineup for an NFC division playoff game at Green Bay to the durable five-time Pro Bowl player who holds the club record for games played (241) and started (232).
Barber recorded 47 interceptions, 205 passes defensed, 1,476 tackles, 28 sacks and 16 forced fumbles.
"The numbers speak for themselves," he said on if he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
In the end, Barber said he wants people to remember him as "the toughest dude I ever saw play."
During the 2002 season, which ended with the Super Bowl, he broke his left thumb and doctors told him he would miss four weeks.
"I looked at him and said, 'Let's have surgery on Monday because I'm practicing on Wednesday,' " Barber said. "He put a plate in there, put eight pins in there, put a little soft cast on and a splint, and I went and practiced on Wednesday.
"I can't say it enough. I never wanted to see anybody else do what I knew I could do better."
Nobody ever did.
Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud @tampabay.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. Follow him on Twitter at @NFLStroud.
The Greatest PlayWith the Bucs leading the Eagles 20-10 and 3:12 remaining in the 2002 NFC Championship Game, Philadelphia began a furious rally. With first and goal at the Bucs 10, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb tried to hit receiver Antonio Freeman on a slant. Barber faked a blitz, then dropped back into coverage and stepped in front for the pass for the interception and ran 92 yards into playoff history. Click the red dots below to read facts and quotes about Barber's renowned play.