Last week, after a stellar 17-year run, Tampa Bay Buccaneers star cornerback Ronde Barber decided to hang up his cleats.
After being selected in the third round of the 1997 draft, the University of Virginia product went on to be a model of consistency in the NFL, starting in 232 out of a possible 241 games. He was also a 5-time Pro Bowler and a 3-time All-Pro.
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Detractors of Barber will say that he was a "system corner" and could not have thrived outside of the Tampa-2 scheme. But while that variation did hide some of his flaws (not being able to cover some receivers deep), it also highlighted many strengths, like his ability to get pressure on the quarterback and play physical at the line of scrimmage.
Barber's breakout year came in 2001 when he had 10 interceptions, 24 passes defended and 69 tackles, and he walks away from the game with a total of 42 picks, 28 sacks and 1,231 tackles to his credit. He is also the only cornerback in league history to accumulate over 40 interceptions and 25 sacks in a career. But perhaps the most impressive statistic attached to Barber is the fact that he did not miss a game over his final 15 years.
The moment that fans will probably remember most about Barber was his interception to seal the 2002 NFC Championship Game. At the time, the Buccaneers led 20-10 and were trying to hold off the Eagles, who were in the red zone with under 4 minutes remaining in the game. Barber picked off Donovan McNabb and returned it 92-yards for a touchdown, in what is possibly the most iconic play in Tampa Bay history.
The Bucs embarrassed the Oakland Raiders a week later for the franchise's only Super Bowl title.
Over the course of their respective careers, Barber became the antithesis of his twin brother, Tiki. Ronde was always seen as a hard worker and quiet leader, while Tiki was viewed as aloof and selfish; a guy who quit on his team to pursue a broadcasting career. Meanwhile, Ronde showed up for work everyday without making a show of himself. And even though the Buccaneers struggled during his later years, he never publicly complained, asked to be traded, or got caught up in contract demands.
At the end of the day, Barber's career stats compare favorably to several Hall of Fame corners, such as Herb Adderley, Dick "Night Train" Lane, Mel Blount, Mike Haynes and Willie Wood. The combination of his numbers and the way in which he carried himself both on and off the field should mean Barber will eventually be rewarded with a bust of his own in Canton.
Much respect, Ronde.