Thursday, May 9, 2013 , Section C |
TAMPA — Ronde Barber once confided in a close friend he wasn't sure this whole NFL career was going to work out. Forget making history. There was a time Barber was afraid he might not make the team.
"It's funny. He told me he actually thought he might get cut his rookie year," ex-Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud said Wednesday.
Ruud called Barber "as close a friend as I've had in the NFL," playing untold rounds of golf with him and regularly joining the Barber family for meals.
"And he wasn't sure he would not get cut his second year, too," Ruud added. "Now 16 years later, he's probably had a Hall of Fame career. That's amazing."
The adjectives flowed freely on Wednesday as news of the retirement of one of the Bucs' greatest players began to circulate.
Barber, 38, will make it official during a news conference at 2 p.m. today. But there was no need to wait when it came to others sharing recollections of his storied career.
Ex-Bucs coach Tony Dungy remembered those difficult early days, including when Barber played only one game the season after being selected in the third round out of Virginia.
"You certainly didn't think Hall of Fame player at that point," Dungy said. "But you certainly could tell he had the skills that we needed. He had the smarts.
"The thing I appreciated that first year was he didn't get discouraged. So many guys don't want to work on their weaknesses. They only want to work on what they're good at. But he got with (defensive backs coach Herm Edwards) and said, 'Here's where I have to improve. Here's what I need to improve.' He became a complete player and just kept getting better and better."
Themes developed when others spoke of Barber. They pointed out his character, which has rarely been questioned. They cited his knack for the big play, with 47 interceptions and 28 sacks during the regular season. But they didn't forget his durability and toughness.
Barber was amid a streak of 215 starts when he decided to step away from the game, the NFL's longest active streak and sixth longest overall.
"It's one thing to have physical toughness, but what sets you apart is mental toughness," ex-Bucs linebacker Ryan Nece said. "He had unbelievable mental toughness. He refused to give in to things that stopped other players from getting on the field."
Barber's relentlessness defined him, ex-Bucs star safety John Lynch said.
"Early in his career, everybody talked about everybody else on our defense," Lynch said. "But this guy just kept grinding and grinding and grinding and went from a player you thought was too small and too slow to a player that put together a Hall of Fame career."
Said Edwards: "Once you get past 10 years, you're really beating Father Time. To play that long, you have to have a passion about playing football."
Barber's playmaking set him apart more than anything. And he saved the Bucs on many a day.
"He didn't want to talk the talk. He just showed up and made plays," ex-Bucs defensive tackle Booger McFarland said. "There's nothing more comforting for a team than to know when you need someone to make a play, you have someone who is going to do it when it matters most."
That kind of impact makes Barber a prime candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, for which he'll be eligible in 2018. Those closest to him don't need convincing.
Said Dungy: "What people are going to have to look at is the total career and the longevity and big plays over 16 years. They'll look at all the productivity, all the numbers, all the consistency and say, 'You know what? He was pretty special.' "
"I think he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer," Ruud said. "Nobody in the NFL played his position the way he did. The first 3 technique (defensive tackle) I think of is Warren Sapp. The first weakside linebacker I think of is Derrick Brooks. And the first slot cornerback I think of is Ronde Barber. All those guys are Hall of Famers."
Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report.