Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Ronde Barber runs to greatness

In the collective memory of Tampa Bay sports, he is running still. A decade gone, and Ronde Barber is gaining on forever.

Even now, Barber is racing down the sideline of Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. The yard markers blur in front of him, and the Eagles disappear behind him. The stadium has fallen deathly silent, as if Barber's interception hit the mute button on an entire city.

It has been 10 years since The Pick, 10 years since Barber snuffed out the Eagles' last chance by intercepting Donovan McNabb and returning it 92 yards to the end zone, slaying demons every 10 yards along the way.

In the press box, only one voice could be heard. Rich McKay, then the general manager, kept yelling.

"Run, Ronde, run! Don't ever stop running!"

Barber never did. He ran to the end zone for the Bucs' final touchdown in a 27-10 triumph over Philadelphia in the 2002 NFC Championship. He ran to San Diego, where the Bucs won their first (and only) Super Bowl. He ran for another decade, earning the legacy as one of the finest Bucs of them all.

Now Barber is finally ready to stop running.

Already?

At 38, Barber has finally had enough. He is cramming all of the picks and all of the sacks and all of the memories into a huge duffel bag, and he is headed to the golf course. Bless him and thank him because you will never see another cornerback quite like him again.

Oh, you can argue Barber had no place left to go, that the Bucs had rebuilt their secondary so completely, they ran out of positions. But do you really believe Barber doesn't think he could compete? For goodness sakes, the guy competed every play along the way.

So how do you remember Barber?

The ball loved him. When you talk about Barber, start with that. A ball would bounce off another defensive back's hands, and there was Barber for the carom. Someone would block a punt, and darned if it wouldn't bounce right to Barber.

Yes, part of it was Barber was the most instinctive player of his era, but there was something more. The ball seemed to like being in Barber's hands, and the end zone seemed to enjoy being beneath his feet.

He loved the game.

Remember that, too. Barber didn't beat his chest a lot, but every now and then, when you mentioned how he had been overlooked nationally, you could see it rankled him that others had received more fanfare. Even here, people tended to talk about the Big Three — Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch — and then bring up Barber, as if he was a second wave. Looking back, Barber was never a second-level star. It should have been a Big Four all along.

No one worked harder than Barber. No one measured the food he put into his body more carefully. No one was a fiercer competitor, right down to the trash talk.

Then there is this: Barber was a ballplayer. You can call him a cornerback, or you can remember he finished as a safety. But more than anything else, Barber just played ball. Twenty-eight sacks, 47 interceptions, 14 touchdowns in the regular season. More than a thousand tackles. And on and on.

Along the way, Barber fought. He went 10 years without winning a playoff game. He endured four coaches. He faced down dozens of cornerbacks who came in to replace him.

And now?

Now the wait for the Hall of Fame discussion begins.

There was a time I didn't think Barber would make it, that he was more of a Tampa Bay secret than a national treasure. Over the years, I've changed my mind. He was simply great enough for long enough to convince even the most nearsighted of voters. No, he was not a classic press and cover guy. But he was a sensational ballplayer for an uncommon length of time.

Ask anyone in Tampa Bay. Ask anyone in Philadelphia.

After all, he is still there in memory, still running downfield as if he is leading a parade. Which, of course, he was.

The Greatest Play

With 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.

 

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