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Cornerback Ronde Barber ready to set Tampa Bay Buccaneers record for games played

TAMPA — Ronde Barber did more than just show up every day for work, but the record he may be remembered most for is how many times he punched in and out of the office.

He'll achieve it Sunday at Atlanta simply by walking onto the field at the Georgia Dome for his 225th career game, passing linebacker Derrick Brooks on the Bucs' all-time list, in the final game of his 15th NFL season.

Barber's greatness as a player is no longer questioned, not like it was when the cornerback was burned in his first pro game in 1997 by Cardinals receiver Rob Moore, who caught eight passes for 147 yards and a touchdown. Barber was benched for the rest of the regular season before returning to the lineup in the second round of the playoffs against the Packers.

"You know what? I'll be as proud of my last game, whenever that is, as I was my first game," Barber said. "My mom tells me the same thing every time I play: 'play proud.' "

Barber can certainly take pride in his career — 43 interceptions, 27 sacks, 1,138 tackles, five Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl title. But his devotion to detail, the way he carries himself as an adult while playing with child-like enthusiasm, his professional approach to his job, which is really playing a game, will be his legacy.

"I don't know what means the most. It's probably the respect that I have out of the building because of all these things and how I've been as a player, on and off the field," Barber said. "That's all you've got, is your legacy when you're done. Not that I'm done. I could be. But it's about how I went about my job, how I approached this business. I had a lot of fun in it. I think everybody that's been around has seen that."

The question that awaits Barber in the offseason is whether he wants to continue playing in 2012. He signed a one-year, $4 million contract in February. Physically, he feels as though he could play. But he admits that a big factor in his decision will be whether the Bucs coach he would be playing for in 2012 is Raheem Morris.

"I would be lying if I didn't say that was somewhat true," Barber said Wednesday. "But we'll see. We'll see. Ideally, I'd love to be back and play with Rah … play with all those guys. They're great coaches, they're fun to be around. They understand me and I understand them, so I imagine that would have something to do with it."

After going 10-6 in 2010 and starting the season 4-2, Morris' team is mired in a nine-game losing streak that could easily become 10 Sunday against the Falcons. Barber was asked if he would make a plea to the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, to keep Morris another season.

"Nah, that's not for me to do," the three-time All-Pro said. "Even though if there was one person who could do it, it probably would be me. That's not my job.

"I have lots of good opinions about Rah. He's a good friend of mine, and I want well for him. He deserves a team that plays (hard) for him, to be honest with you, guys that care about winning football. … Rah didn't do anything different than he did last year and the results are starkly different. If that's who we want as a head coach, then that's who we got. That's about as comfortable as I can be with it if they ask me."

By all accounts, Barber still is an important component to the Bucs defense, and at 36, there's no doubt he has been their most consistent player. He's fifth on the club with 73 tackles and has a team-best three interceptions. But his value as a mentor and an example to young players can't be measured in numbers.

"I approach it like it's my job because it is," Barber. "This is what I get paid to do, regardless of the fact that I love doing it. I love football. It's a great form of entertainment for a lot of people, but when I walk into this building, it's my job. I'm paying my bills and feeding (my wife) Claudia and the girls."

Somehow, the 5-foot-10, 184-pound Barber has been able to grind through injuries, none more serious than the torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee he suffered at Detroit with three weeks to go in the 2002 season. Five weeks later, he returned a Donovan McNabb interception 92 yards for a touchdown in Philadelphia to clinch the NFC championship and send the Bucs to their only Super Bowl.

"He's the toughest teammate, a combination mental and physical toughness, that I've ever played with," said former Bucs and Broncos safety John Lynch, who will be in the Fox broadcast booth for what could be Barber's final game.

"It's kind of amazing, you don't even feel the streak because he's supposed to be there," Morris said. "I don't even know if I've seen him miss practice."

After reluctantly agreeing to a few questions off the practice field, Barber excused himself because he had to watch film to prepare for Sunday's game.

"I honestly come onto the field every day feeling like there's something I'm not doing good enough," said the third-round pick out of Virginia in 1997.

Then he went right back to work.

.Up next

Bucs at Falcons

When/where: 4:15 p.m. Sunday; Georgia Dome, Atlanta

TV/radio: Ch. 13; 620-AM, 103.5-FM

Line: Falcons by 12

Cornerback Ronde Barber ready to set Tampa Bay Buccaneers record for games played 12/28/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 29, 2011 7:56am]
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