TAMPA — Ronde Barber’s wait to join his Super Bowl-winning defensive teammates in the Bucs’ Ring of Honor is over.
The career-long Buccaneer — whose unspectacular NFL rookie-year introduction precluded a career in which he pioneered the nickel cornerback position and eventually could earn recognition in Canton, Ohio — will become the 13th individual to join the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime of the Bucs’ Sept. 22 home game against the New York Giants.
Barber will become the fourth member of the Bucs' Super Bowl XXXVII champion defense to receive the recognition, joining linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive tackle Warren Sapp and safety John Lynch.
“Sixteen years seemed short compared to the seven years I’ve waited for this,” Barber said Tuesday as he stepped to the podium, referring to his 16-year career that was played entirely with the Bucs. "How long have I waited for this? I’ve waited for this a long time. There’s a great list of predecessors to this honor. ... To be up there with those guys, it’s humbling.
“This is something that I really wanted and it means a lot to me,” Barber said. “To be able to share the dais with those guys, and be able to look at that facade, to be able to look up there years from now and be like, ‘That was one heck of a team.’ I think it kind of completes the circle to this defense.”
Brooks and Sapp, both Pro Football Hall of Famers, attended Tuesday’s news conference at the Advent Health Training Center to announce details for Barber’s Ring of Honor day.
After a rookie season in which he played just one game, Barber emerged as one of the most diverse players to play the cornerback position. He is the only player in NFL history to record 25 or more sacks and 40 or more interceptions. His 28 career sacks are the second-most by a defensive back.
“He found his niche in that defense being at the nickelback,” Brooks said. “He worked hard. He worked his butt off on and off the field to perfect that position and what it was.”
Playing the nickelback role, Barber was a key cog to the Bucs’ vaunted Tampa-2 defense. There were the cover duties of any cornerback, but he also filled the gap to stop the run in the team’s eight-man front and eventually developed into a blitzer.
Garnering a reputation for making big plays in the most critical moments, Barber is credited for making perhaps the biggest play in franchise history, his 92-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Eagles in the 2002 NFC Championship Game that sealed the Bucs' path to the Super Bowl.
Barber also had four pass deflections and a forced fumble in that game.
“A lot of people talk about, ‘being in the zone,’” Barber said. “I wasn’t in the zone that day. I was just hyper-focused and ready to make every play, and I did. ... It wasn’t because I was doing anything that I normally didn’t do. It was just, all the plays they were going to pick on me with, I made the play. That’s nature of this game. You get those opportunities to rise up and be that player, and that day it was me.”
Brooks said Barber played with a unique quiet cockiness, and Barber agreed with the assessment, admitting he was fueled by a "fear of failure." And once he became a starter in his second season in 1998, Barber played in 215 straight games over the next 15 seasons, the most by an NFL defensive back.
“I never wanted to see anyone else do my job, that’s how I approached it,” Barber said. “I know some of that has changed. The money is different now. As far as I was concerned, aside from a broken bone that I couldn’t play with, I was going to play. Pulled hamstrings, quads, I checked it.”
Barber, a Fox TV analyst, will be working the Sept. 22 game. His brother, former Giants running back Tiki Barber, will fill in for him in the booth during halftime while Ronde is being honored on the field.
“I’m looking forward to this,” Barber said. “Week 3 seems like it’s right around the corner. It’s going to be a work week for me, which is probably a good thing because I won’t have time to think about everything that’s going on.”
On Tuesday, Barber reminisced about his career, how Sapp would call him Randy to keep him humble, how his first defensive backs coach, Herm Edwards, showed early confidence in him despite his rookie year struggles. He lauded his next DBs coach, current Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who introduced him to the notion that one day he’d be in the 20 sacks/20 interceptions club.
But ultimately, the honor is about Barber gaining admittance to another club, joining his teammates among the Bucs’ most impactful defensive players. He’s also on the path to Canton after being a Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist the past three seasons, but he began his news conference on Tuesday deflecting Hall of Fame discussion.
“How many years in a row were we a top-10 defense?” Barber said. "That’s pretty telling. We already have two Hall of Famers (Brooks and Sapp) and arguably could have three more (Barber, Lynch and Simeon Rice). We were a dominant unit and we compared favorably to everybody over the years. You come to the stadium to see us play defense, and that was fun. ... We had fun because we were good at our jobs and we were accountable to each other. "
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.