TAMPA — Ronde Barber underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee but didn’t want anyone outside of the Bucs organization to know he was hurt. Instead, he participated in the first play of each practice period in order to avoid appearing on the daily injury report.
It was the 2002 season, and the Bucs had begun to make a run that would end with a win in Super Bowl 37.
“I just remember Mike Tomlin and I just not watching in practice, because he looked that bad,” said former Bucs head coach Raheem Morris, who helped Tomlin coach defensive backs at the time. “... I’m telling you, it was unbelievable. It was sick. (Barber) told me, ‘The pain just lets me know I’m alive.’”
Barber didn’t miss a snap. In fact, the next Sunday he had one of four interceptions of Brett Favre in a 21-7 win over the Packers.
“Typical Ronde,” Morris said.
The only thing more impressive than Barber’s durability was his ability as perhaps the best slot cornerback in league history. Thursday night at the NFL Honors awards show at Super Bowl 57 in Glendale, Arizona, Barber was announced as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023.
“During his legendary 16-year career as a Buccaneer, Ronde established himself as one of the most iconic players in team history, and his selection today to the Pro Football Hall of Fame further solidifies him as one of the greatest players of all time,” the Glazer family said in a statement.
“Ronde was the embodiment of a true professional, a fierce competitor and a student of the game. He was a natural lead who always found a way to leave his mark on the game and was responsible for some of the most memorable moments in our franchise history.”
Also headed for enshrinement in Canton, Ohio, in August will be Browns tackle Joe Thomas; Jets, Patriots, Bucs and Chiefs cornerback Darrelle Revis; Cowboys and Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware; Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas; Bengals cornerback Ken Riley; Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko; Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley; and Cardinals and Chargers coach Don Coryell.
“So many people to help you along the way and we get to sit up here, but it’s about them,” Barber said in a news conference after the show. “All the guys, ladies, coaches and teachers that have helped are going into the Hall of Fame with me, and I’m reveling in this for them.”
Barber thanked Bucs fans in a video posted on the team’s official Twitter account.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“We knew it was coming someday. Today is that day,” Barber said. “Love you for your support. I’ve always tried to be your hero. You appreciate me for what I did on the football field. I appreciate what you did following me and my career and loving me to the end. I’ll see you guys in Canton.”
Barber, who played 16 NFL seasons, becomes the fourth member of the Bucs’ Super Bowl 37 championship defense to reach the Hall of Fame, joining defensive tackle Warren Sapp, linebacker Derrick Brooks and safety John Lynch.
Barber learned he had been elected to the Hall when Brooks knocked on his door at his home in Oldsmar two weeks ago. Thursday night, Brooks introduced Barber as a member of the Class of 2023.
“Whether he was lined up inside or out, blitzing the quarterback or playing the pass, he was always a problem,” Brooks said. “And once again, my friend, you are now my teammate. Welcome to Canton, Ronde Barber.”
Barber, 47, has been eligible since 2018 but made it in his third consecutive year as a top-15 finalist. His stats always have been worthy of a call from the Hall: 47 interceptions, 28 sacks, 15 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries, 12 touchdowns and 1,251 tackles. He was a five-time Pro Bowl player, three-time All-Pro, member of the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000s and a Super Bowl champion.
He also played 215 consecutive games, the most of any defensive back in NFL history.
“It’s a shame it took Ronde this long,” said former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy. “But I don’t know there’s anybody who played that many games at corner and still played at a high level doing all those things in Year 13, Year 14, Year 15. It’s crazy.
“It’s ridiculous. To play at that level and not just be a corner who goes in and plays on third down. To play every single snap for that many games for double-digit years.”
But Barber said afterward he didn’t believe the wait was too long.
“It feels pretty awesome,” Barber told NFL Network’s Steve Wyche. “I’m in awe of this whole process. And you say you wait awhile. I don’t feel like I waited awhile. ... There’s so many deserving people. When you’re in the conversation, you’re in the conversation for a reason. I’m just glad to get over the line, right?
“Like I’ve been saying to these guys all weekend so far, it’s a journey. There’s an indefinite end. But when it hits that end, that journey finishes, then you’ve got to be excited about it. I’m excited about this.”
Before Dungy discovered that Barber would thrive in the slot cornerback position, he had to make sure he could survive playing inside at 5-foot-10, 184 pounds.
“You knew Ronde could cover, you knew he could do some things, but could he hold up in there, play 16 games every year and tackle the running backs and take on pulling guards?” Dungy said. “I’ve never seen anybody his size do that.”
Barber also was a film junkie whose preparation each week put him at another level.
“I remember the Rams had this pass they threw in the middle of the field and they window-dressed it and made it look like it was going to certain guys, but you had to let that guy go and go to the next guy,” Dungy said.
“We opened up a Monday Night game the year after (the Rams’) Super Bowl. They threw it to Marshall Faulk. They had done it a lot of different ways to a lot of receivers. But they opened the game, and Isaac Bruce ran the cross, and they threw it to Faulk. And Ronde does it perfectly, lets Bruce go and intercepts the ball and sets the tone for the game. But that was him. He could look at stuff on tape and say, ‘I got it.’ Transfer it to the field and do it.”
Barber also became an elite pass rusher. He is the only player in league history to have at least 45 interceptions and 25 or more sacks.
“His get-off was just as good as mine, and he was pretty vicious when he got to the quarterback,” Sapp said. “I don’t remember one getting away from him. I don’t think he missed a sack. He might be one of the guys in the Hall of Fame who blitzed and didn’t miss a sack.”
Having a fourth member in the Hall of Fame solidifies the Bucs’ 2002 defense as one of the best in NFL history.
“I get my fourth member,” Sapp said. “Makes us kind of like the Steelers. They got five! We got to work on (defensive end) Simeon (Rice), because my guy Simeon is better than (Giants Hall of Famer Michael) Strahan and all those guys.”
• • •
Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.