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With Peyton Manning ruled out, Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Ronde Barber will own iron man mark

TAMPA — Where were you in November 1999?

Bill Clinton occupied the White House, and George W. Bush was a year away from winning his first term. Gasoline prices, in that pre-9/11 world, hovered around $1.50 per gallon. Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, the youngest player on the Bucs' current roster, was 9 years old.

Then, on Nov. 21, Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber, after a one-week hiatus, returned to the starting lineup, and he hasn't left yet.

News of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning being ruled out of Sunday's season opener means Barber will own the NFL's longest active streak of consecutive regular-season starts. When the Bucs open against Detroit, Barber will make his 184th straight start as Manning's stretch ends at 208.

Not that Barber is taking any bows.

"I'll let you pat me on the back," Barber told reporters Wednesday, eager to avoid the subject.

But the feat is undeniably impressive in a game as brutal as football, especially given Barber's position and diminutive stature (5 feet 10, 184 pounds).

"Ronde, he's already legendary in my eyes anyway," coach Raheem Morris said. "When you talk about the cornerback position and playing that long, that's certainly difficult. He's 46 years old and he's still out there. He's older than his coach."

Barber actually is 36, still a senior citizen by NFL standards. He is, however, older than his coach. Morris turned 35 last week.

Manning's stretch has been no less remarkable than Barber's, particularly because of his level of unmatched consistency. Before succumbing to his current neck injury, Manning had started every game of his 13-year career.

"The best part about football is being out there on the field playing with my teammates," Manning, 35, said in a statement. "It will be tough not to be out there playing for the organization and our fans. … The team will do fine without me, and I know for sure that I will miss them much more than they miss me."

Colts coach Jim Caldwell told reporters in Indianapolis: "He's one of a kind. When you look across our league, most teams have had quarterbacks that have missed time. Ours has just been highly unusual."

The Bucs would say the same about their right cornerback.

Barber has played through a litany of injuries over the years, some known, others not. In any case, he almost never misses a practice, barely even entertaining the notion. His ability to play in spite of pain and his good fortune to have avoided major injuries are rare, to say the least.

There's evidence of that all around Barber. Just at his position, the Bucs saw Aqib Talib miss four games with a hip injury last season. Another cornerback, Myron Lewis, is in danger of missing Sunday's game because of an ankle sprain. And E.J. Biggers, the nickel back, missed his entire rookie season with a shoulder injury.

What makes Barber different?

"I think it's all Ronde, the way he prepares himself, the way he takes care of his body," Morris said. "All those things. Ronde Barber has certainly been on very few injury reports, by his choice. He forces his will on his body, and he forces his will on his opponents. … I've watched him finish the season with a torn knee ligament. I've watched him play through broken thumbs."

Barber, a five-time All-Pro, will go down in history for other reasons. He's the only player to record 26 sacks and 40 interceptions. His 11 touchdowns via fumble or interception returns are second among active players and fourth all-time.

But those achievements are, to an extent, a byproduct of Barber's resiliency.

"He's one of the toughest guys," Morris said, "I've ever been around."

With Peyton Manning ruled out, Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Ronde Barber will own iron man mark 09/07/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 7, 2011 10:10pm]
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