TAMPA — Struggle, sacrifice and unparalleled success sound like the dramatic ingredients for a great football movie, right?
Except those are the real-life elements to Ronde Barber’s journey from a bench-warming NFL rookie to his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in August.
The Bucs have four other players and a former head coach enshrined in Canton, Ohio, but Barber has always felt like the most closely embraced by his adoptive hometown fans.
“I think that’s why there’s such a love affair with Ronde Barber, because he kind of never went away,” former Bucs safety John Lynch, who left Tampa Bay after 11 seasons to join the Broncos, says in the documentary, “Prototype: The Legacy of Ronde Barber.”
“A lot of us did, whether by our choosing or not. But Ronde never did. I think people like and respect and appreciate that he always stayed there.”
The Bucs began a weeklong celebration of Barber’s career Wednesday night with the premiere of the feature film. The 82-minute documentary, which debuted before more than 1,000 fans at Tampa Theatre, chronicles the life and career of the charismatic defensive back.
Prior to the event, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor read a proclamation making Sept. 20, 2023, Ronde Barber Day in the city.
Barber has been celebrating since his election to the Hall of Fame during Super Bowl week in Phoenix in February. He’ll be honored by the Bucs at halftime of Monday night’s game against the Eagles at Raymond James Stadium.
But Wednesday’s event allowed him to share an experience with the fans that cheered him for 16 seasons.
“They respected the game that I played for 16 years, and I respect them for rooting for me that entire time,” Barber said. “I’ve said this a million times. When I went to the Hall of Fame, when I went into the Ring of Honor, even, I felt this recognition for them. They were the ones that I did this for. Obviously, for myself and my family as well, but I loved entertaining them, and they entertained me back.”
The film begins with Barber in his hotel room in Phoenix, ironing his tie for the NFL Honors show at Super Bowl 57, where he would walk out on stage as a member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023.
“You realize you’re not hiding anymore in the background of your post-career,” Barber says in the film. “You’re in the forefront of your Hall of Fame journey, and that’s where I am. This is the first step.”
Stephen Lynch, the Bucs’ director of production, produced the film that included revealing interviews with Barber’s twin brother, Tiki, the former Giants running back; as well as his mother, Geraldine; Derrick Brooks; Warren Sapp; John Lynch; Tony Dungy; Mike Tomlin; Herm Edwards and Monte Kiffin; among others.
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 traveled the country to capture this stuff,” Stephen Lynch said. “I was up for Todd Bowles’ graduation in Maryland at Mount St. Mary’s and then I was like, ‘Hey, I’m right down the street from Geraldine Barber,’ his mom. So I popped down there, talked with her. We looked through the baby photos, and she got to go down memory lane. Then I’m catching a plane to Utah, because Ronde was getting his bust carved with (sculptor) Blair Buswell.”
Barber spares no details of his journey, from growing up in a single-parent home with Tiki, whom he seemed to be one step behind in the evolution of their careers.
Tiki was the first to start at Virginia, while Ronde redshirted. Tiki started at running back with the Giants, while Ronde was inactive for nearly every game as a rookie.
“We were always tight, we always had easy conversations,” Tiki says in the film. “In fact, my mom used to tell us we would have our own language, and it really wasn’t. It was just mumbling.”
The two did everything together. “Every avenue we walked hand-in-hand,” Ronde says.
The divide occurred in 1997, when Tiki was drafted in the second round by the Giants and Ronde went in the third to the Bucs.
“I think it was tough for Ronde at first,” John Lynch says. “I had been there for four years. Derrick and Warren Sapp had been there for two years, and we had just really started to go to Pro Bowls and all that. Ronde wanted so badly to be one of the guys, but it was already established that they started to call us the Big Three, and I think he was the guy going, ‘Wait, why can’t it be the Big Four?’”
Barber’s only start came against the Cardinals, and he was burned for 146 receiving yards. “And all of them were on me,” Barber says.
That experience fueled Barber, who didn’t expect to play again as a rookie. But defensive backs coach Herm Edwards started Barber in the division-round playoff game at Green Bay.
Barber never looked back, growing as a player and putting down roots in Tampa Bay. He married wife Claudia and shares that she had two miscarriages before having their two girls.
“My story is unbelievable,” Barber says. “But the unbelievable part is I got to go through it with the woman I married and am still in love with.”
The highlight of the film — and of Barber’s career — is given an ethereal feeling in the film. His 92-yard interception return against the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game following the 2002 season still is considered the greatest play in Bucs history.
“Ronde’s play, the pick-six at Philly, it’s the favorite play of mine as a teammate, as a fan,” Brooks says.
The postscript was that Barber was playing with a torn right posterior cruciate ligament and a broken hand. He played in 240 consecutive games, the last 215 as a starter.
Barber admits his last season with the Bucs, coached by Greg Schiano, wasn’t much fun. He says he started to have “buyer’s remorse.”
The event Wednesday ended with a roundtable with Barber, Sapp and Brooks. There was some good-natured ribbing between teammates. They talked about how John Lynch, after getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, worried if his election would impact Ronde’s chances.
“My family means everything to me,” Barber said. “My mom is my rock. She always has been. But through the years, my family has grown substantially. My family is here. These guys are my family.”
The night ended with Barber being asked what he was most proud of? “I’m most proud of being a pain in the Eagles’ ass.”
• • •
Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.