He has been here longer than sweat.
If you are trying to sum up the legacy of Ronde Barber, the Bucs' forever man, this is where you start. He is timeless. He is ageless. He is eternal.
He has been here longer than sunburns, longer than mosquitoes, longer than third down. Once, when he was young, he covered Ponce de Leon man on man.
Other stars come, and other stars go, and still, Barber remains. He has outlasted his contemporaries, his coaches, his critics. For the Bucs, he is the last piece of the dynasty, the last member of the royal family.
Also, he is still here, still essential, still standing between the opponent and the goal line.
Can anyone remember when that wasn't the case?
Barber is 37 now, and there is mileage in his legs and wear throughout his body. In each of the past two offseasons, Barber admits there have been days — a lot of days — when he has convinced himself it was time to retire, to turn in his helmet and head for the golf course.
In the end, however, Barber has always decided he hasn't had enough, after all. And that guy who will eventually take his place? He can sit in the waiting room just a little bit longer.
"I still like coming to work," says Barber, entering his 16th season.
"I still like doing my job. When the desire is no longer driving me, I won't be here anymore. I have other things I want to do."
But not now. Not yet.
These days, Barber is a safety, of all things. Over the past couple of years, he says, general manager Mark Dominik would tell him he planned to squeeze an extra couple of years out of Barber by moving him from cornerback. Barber would always chuckle at the idea and walk away.
Turns out, Dominik wasn't joking.
This offseason, the Bucs didn't have a lot of players to choose from at safety. There was Mark Barron, the prized rookie. But Cody Grimm was coming off an injury, and Ahmad Black hadn't played much. So Barber moved.
Others have done it. Rod Woodson, for instance. Ronnie Lott. Aeneas Williams. Everson Walls. Green Bay is trying a similar shift with Charles Woodson. After all, cornerback is a position of speed, where the demands are to match the strides of world-class sprinters. Safety is more about instincts and toughness.
"Everybody does it," Barber said. "The good ones, the ones who stick around for a long time. If you still have appreciable talent, it makes sense.
"I like it. It's different, and the responsibilities are different. In this defense, you're at the line of scrimmage every single snap. But it probably suits me a little better."
Who knew? A few months ago, Barber wasn't convinced he was going to play anywhere. It wasn't until a phone conversation with Dominik while he was vacationing in Australia that Barber decided to give it another go. Think about that: Barber had to go to the land down under before deciding his career wasn't over.
Now Barber will make his 200th consecutive start in today's season opener. This isn't common, and it isn't easy.
"It's a grind every single day of every single week in every single year," Barber said. "But my heart told me I could still play. My body told me I could still play."
So is this the last year?
Barber grins. He leans forward in his chair, and he glances sideways at the question.
"I can't put definitely on anything," he said, "especially where my football career is concerned."
Barber was never supposed to be this good. The Bucs drafted him with the 66th pick of the 1997 draft. Incidentally, Tampa Bay also had the 63rd pick that year, but they passed on Barber to draft guard Frank Middleton. Sixteen other defensive backs were taken.
As a rookie, Barber played two games (one in the regular season). At the time, no one circled 2012 as being a big year for him.
If you are wondering, Barber likes what he sees.
• On new coach Greg Schiano: "He definitely has a unique way of doing this. He believes in his own way. It's hard. It's old-school. He wants a hard-nosed football team that can fight through adversity, through being tired and sore, in not letting excuses get in the way. He's pushed us harder probably than any coach I've had."
• On the young players around him: "The potential is huge. There is so much frontline talent on our team. Those guys can redefine Bucs defense. No doubt. They have to prove it. They're all self-motivated, and they're a little bit selfish, the way great players are."
• On himself: "I didn't come in with a lot of fanfare. I can promise you that some of the guys people compare me with worked as hard as I did to get to where I am. I've paid my dues. I think I've earned everything that I have. I'm comfortable with that."
There is more work to do, more plays to make. For Barber, it has always been that way.
After all, he is the guy who brings the electricity to the Bucs defense.
Or, at least, since they invented electricity.
Gary Shelton can be heard from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays on 98.7-FM The Fan.
A bunch of teams might want to draft again
Sixty-five players, including four by the Bucs and twin brother Tiki, were drafted before Ronde Barber in 1997. Only one, the Falcons' Tony Gonzalez (No. 13) remains active:
Team Pos. School
1. Orlando Pace * Rams T Ohio St
2. Darrell Russell * Raiders DT USC
3. Shawn Springs Seahawks DB Ohio St.
4. Peter Boulware Ravens DE Florida St.
5. Bryant Westbrook Lions DB Texas
6. Walter Jones * Seahawks T Florida St.
7. Ike Hilliard Giants WR Florida
8. James Farrior * Jets LB Virginia
9. Tom Knight Cardinals DB Iowa
10. Chris Naeole Saints G Colorado
11. Michael Booker Falcons DB Nebraska
12. Warrick Dunn Bucs RB Florida St.
13. Tony Gonzalez * Chiefs TE California
14. Reinard Wilson Bengals DE Florida St.
15. Yatil Green Dolphins WR Miami
16. Reidel Anthony Bucs WR Florida
17. Kenard Lang Redskins DE Miami
18. Kenny Holmes Oilers DE Miami
19. Tarik Glenn Colts T California
20. Dwayne Rudd Vikings LB Alabama
21. Renaldo Wynn Jaguars DE Notre Dame
22. David LaFleur Cowboys TE LSU
23. Antowain Smith Bills RB Houston
24. Chad Scott Steelers DB Maryland
25. Jon Harris Eagles DE Virginia
26. Jim Druckenmiller49ers QB Virginia Tech
27. Rae Carruth Panthers WR Colorado
28. Trevor Pryce Broncos DE Clemson
29. Chris Canty Patriots DB Kansas St.
30. Ross Verba Packers G Iowa
31. Rick Terry Jets DT North Carolina
32. Nathan Davis Falcons DT Indiana
33. Rob Kelly Saints DB Ohio St.
Team Pos. School
34. Jamie Sharper Ravens LB Virginia
35. Juan Roque Lions T Arizona St.
36. Tiki Barber * Giants RB Virginia
37. Jerry Wunsch Bucs T Wisconsin
38. John Allred Bears TE USC
39. Jared Tomich Saints DE Nebraska
40. Dexter McCleon Rams DB Clemson
41. Byron Hanspard Falcons RB Texas Tech
42. Jake Plummer Cardinals QB Arizona St.
43. Corey Dillon Bengals RB Washington
44. Sam Madison * Dolphins DB Louisville
45. Freddie Jones Chargers TE North Carolina
46. Joey Kent Oilers WR Tennessee
47. Kevin Lockett Chiefs WR Kansas St.
48. Adam Meadows Colts T Georgia
49. Torrian Gray Vikings DB Virginia Tech
50. Mike Logan Jaguars DB West Virginia
51. Greg Jones Redskins LB Colorado
52. Marcellus Wiley Bills DE Columbia
53. Will Blackwell Steelers WR San Diego St.
54. Kevin Abrams Lions DB Syracuse
55. Marc Edwards 49ers RB Notre Dame
56. Mike Minter Panthers DB Nebraska
57. James Darling Eagles LB Washington St.
58. Kim Herring Ravens DB Penn St.
59. Brandon Mitchell Patriots DE Texas A&M
60. Darren Sharper * PackersDBWilliam & Mary
61. Sedrick Shaw Patriots RB Iowa
62. Troy Davis Saints RB Iowa St.
63. Frank Middleton Bucs G Arizona
64. Jay Graham Ravens RB Tennessee
65. Dexter Coakley CowboysDBAppalachian St.
* First-team All-Pro at least once (Barber is a three-time All-Pro)