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The Answer Man, Series 9, Volume 3

Posted Apr 11, 2013

Returning with a more streamlined approach, the Buc fans' inside man drops by to answer queries about Ronde Barber and the Hall of Fame, Nike uniforms and the title of World Champions


In my last post, which concluded a gimmicky three-part column that spread one of my typically lengthy efforts over several weeks, I printed a question sent in by Jay of Wesley Chapel.  Jay's submission was quite long and wordy itself, but ironically one of his points was that he preferred my columns to be shorter but more frequent.

 

Well, I have chosen to believe that Jay is a spokesman for all my readers, a one-man focus group, if you will.  We must continue to evolve to survive, and that is what I'm doing right now this spring.  From now on, your Answer Man is going to be short(er) and sweet(er), starting right now with this intro.  No rambling today; let's get right to your questions.

 

(Oh, and if you want to send a question in, click here.  Come on, you know you want to.)

 

**

 

1. Damien Ohlweiler of St. Petersburg, Florida asks:

Answer Man I've been reading your column for years and I'm a huge fan. Although this is the first time I have asked a question and it's a 2 part question. Part 1: How do Ronde Barber's numbers compare to the greats of the past, both corner and safety?  Part 2: Putting your alliance with the Bucs aside do you consider him a sure-fire 1st-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Thanks.

 

Answer Man: No, I do not consider Ronde Barber a sure-fire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.

 

Boom!  They always say you need to draw your readers in with a gripping first sentence, and one of the best methods to do so is the "controversial claim."  Who would have expected the Answer Man, who has so often been labeled a Buccaneer "company man," to say no to the Hall of Fame chances of the great Ronde Barber?  You're intrigued now, right?  ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!

 

Ah, but this is actually a clever bait-and-switch.  Now I pull back the curtain to reveal that in no way am I really saying no to Barber's Hall candidacy.  I do stand by that first sentence…but let me explain in greater detail.

 

I answered your question exactly as you worded it: "sure-fire, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer."  Do you know why I would say no to that question?  Because there are very few players in any given year that I would consider absolute locks to get in on their first try.  Remember this past year's Hall of Fame selection?  Did you feel with utter confidence, when the names were finally being read that Saturday night before the Super Bowl, that you were going to hear Warren Sapp?  Warren Sapp, for goodness sake!  Given his emotional response, I would suggest that not even the always confident Warren Sapp was sure he was going to get the call in his first year, though he was obviously deserving.

 

And Michael Strahan, who has the fifth most sacks in NFL history and is almost sure to get a bust in Canton, didn't even make it in that first year.  He might have if the process allowed for an unlimited number of selections each year, but the voters can only go as high as five modern-era players each year, so you commonly have very deserving candidates battling each other for spots.  That's the main reason it's hard to predict that ANY player – with some exceptions, like a Jerry Rice or a Reggie White – is a sure bet to get the call in his first year.

 

Let's say Ronde chooses to retire here in the next few weeks (please, please, please don't let that happen…everyone knock on wood and cross your fingers RIGHT NOW).  He would be eligible for the first time in 2018. Ray Lewis will also be on that ballot.  Maybe Randy Moss also retires this year and is on that ballot.  Is Brian Urlacher done?  If so, he's on that ballot, too.  Kickers don't usually get much love, but Jason Hanson might have a shot.  And think of the possible holdovers from the 2017 ballot, the core of which should include LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, Hines Ward, Brian Dawkins and Torry Holt.  Wow.  If Ronde comes back for another year (pretty please!), he'll likely be sharing a ballot with some of those holdovers and Tony Gonzalez.  And who knows, maybe Peyton Manning wins a Super Bowl this coming year and chooses to re-enact John Elway's going-out-on-top with the Broncos.  Then he would be on that 2019 ballot, too.

 

Let me put it this way.  Do I think Ronde Barber is deserving of the Hall of Fame?  Absolutely, 100% without question.  The Answer Man would consider it a travesty if he doesn't get in.  Do I think Ronde Barber will get into the Hall of Fame?  Definitely.  The numbers, as we'll get to in a minute, are too compelling to ignore, and he also has a Super Bowl ring and some classic moments that will help.  Do I think Ronde Barber deserves to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer?  Now we might be veering into "company man" territory, but yes, I do.  Again, we'll get to the numbers below.  Do I think Ronde Barber has a chance to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer?  Why, yes I do.  Thanks for asking.  Do I think Ronde Barber is a SURE-FIRE first-ballot Hall-of-Famer?  And this is where I have to pull back.  Barber may fully deserve the honor when he is first eligible, but I worry about the competition in whatever year that is, and so I can't say with certainty that he gets in on the first try.  If Warren Sapp had to sweat it – and we'll see next year how much Derrick Brooks has to sweat it – then chances are Barber will have to sweat it.  Hopefully, the sweat turns to tears (of joy) in Year One, like it did for Sapp.

 

Now, Ronde Barber's candidacy.  You asked me to compare him to great cornerbacks and safeties, but I don't really think it's necessary to include safeties.  He has only played the position for one year (and would likely not do so again if he returns in 2013).  He played it well, to be sure, and that successful conversion should be another check in his favor when you're adding up his accomplishments, but I don't see the point in comparing him to such long-time safeties as Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu.

 

Let's start by comparing him to the 16 cornerbacks already in the Hall of Fame, which includes a couple of guys – Ronnie Lott, Mel Renfro and Rod Woodson – who saw significant time at both corner and safety.  Here they are (with Barber added to the list at the bottom for comparison), with some key numbers included.  The abbreviations stand for games, interceptions, touchdowns scored, Pro Bowl selections and championships won:

 

Player

G

INT

TD

PB

CH

Herb Adderley

164

48

9*

5

5

Lem Barney

140

56

11*

7

0

Mel Blount

200

57

4

5

4

Willie Brown

204

54

2

4

1

Jack Butler

103

52

9**

4

0

Darrell Green

295

54

8

7

2

Mike Haynes

177

46

5*

9

1

Jimmy Johnson

213

47

6**

5

0

Dick Lane

157

68

8**

7

0

Dick LeBeau

185

62

4

3

0

Ronnie Lott

192

63

5

10

4

Mel Renfro

174

52

6*

10

2

Deion Sanders

188

53

22**

8

2

Emmitt Thomas

181

58

5

5

1

Roger Wehrli

193

40

3*

7

0

Rod Woodson

238

71

17*

11

1

Ronde Barber

241

47

14*

5

1

 

* includes some punt/kickoff return touchdowns

** includes some rushing/receiving touchdowns and/or kick return touchdowns

 

I got those stats right off the Hall of Fame web site, so take it up with them if you see anything you quibble with.  I believe them to be accurate.  The tricky thing is figuring out what to do about tackles and sacks.  Sacks weren't even counted until 1982, and tackles have never been official so those numbers are hard to compare, and in some cases, even find.  That's a shame, because Barber has HUGE totals in those two categories for a cornerback.

 

Certain guys stand out in certain columns in that table.  Deion Sanders' touchdown total is ridiculous, although more than half of them came on kick and punt returns.  That doesn't make them any less important, and that's surely a big part of the reason he's in the Hall, but it does make him a different sort of player than everybody else on the list.  Woodson, Lott and Renfro racked up the Pro Bowl honors.  Lott and Woodson also were interception machines, as were LeBeau and Night Train Lane.  A few definitely played on the right teams (and were instrumental to those teams) to pile up the championships, most notably Lott, Blount and Herb Adderley.  Darrell Green has the games category locked down, but Barber is next on the list and that number really jumps out.  Barber also jumps out in the touchdown category, which has been a calling card throughout his career.

 

With the exception of the outliers like Lott and Lane, most of the guys on the list finished with somewhere around 50 interceptions.  Barber is in that vicinity with 47 and might be back in 2013 to chase the round number.  Barber has "only" one championship, but that's better than six other guys on the list.  Essentially, Barber fares well enough in all of those categories and really stands out in two of them, and to me that obviously makes him worthy of joining the others in the Hall.


I think we can consider Barber's 1,025 tackles and 28 sacks when discussing his candidacy, but comparing them to the others in more than a vague way isn't going to happen.  (By the way, the Buccaneers' own tally of Barber's career tackles is 1,428, but to make it more fair we'll use the lower number you find online at NFL.com and elsewhere.)  Also, Barber's 232 starts, including 215 in a row – which is known to be an NFL record for cornerbacks – are extremely impressive but hard to compare due to some incomplete records on the older guys on the list.

 

We can throw some of that in when comparing him to his contemporaries, however.  Let's see, who would be considered the best cornerbacks of the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s?  Starting with the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1990s, we get Sanders, Woodson, Green and Aeneas Williams, the first three of whom are already in the Hall, as discussed above.  The 2000s All-Decade Team includes Champ Bailey, Charles Woodson, Ty Law and, yes, Ronde Barber.  Let's throw in Asante Samuel, Shawn Springs, Aaron Glenn, DeAngelo Hall, Donnie Abraham, Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain, Nate Clements, Ray Buchanan, Charles Tillman, Nnamdi Asomugha, Antoine Winfield, Deltha O'Neal, Chris McAlister, Troy Vincent, Ryan McNeil, James Hasty and Dale Carter.  I know some of you will look at a couple of those names and laugh, but I'm just looking at interception and Pro Bowl lists and trying to be inclusive rather than exclusive.  Better safe than sorry.

 

I'm not going to include guys whose careers started in the second half of the 2000s decade, as they really aren't Barber's contemporaries when it comes to Hall of Fame voting.  So don't be surprised not to see such names as Leon Hall, Darrelle Revis, Jonathan Joseph, Antonio Cromartie, Cortland Finnegan, Brent Grimes.  I also didn't go too far back before Barber's career started, because those cornerbacks, too, are not really his contemporaries and have essentially already been judged by the Hall voters.  Below is the list I ended up with.  This time, I've got a few more categories added and I'm just going to go straight off the Pro Football Reference web site for everyone's numbers, to keep it fair.  The categories are games, games started, tackles, sacks, interceptions, touchdowns scored, Pro Bowl selections and championships won (a few of the players had some incomplete numbers listed, and in those instances I simply marked them as "n/a"):

 

Player

G

GS

T

S

INT

TD

PB

CH

Donnie Abraham

132

112

362

2.0

38

5

1

0

Nnamdi Asomugha*

154

130

353

2.0

15

1

3

0

Champ Bailey*

210

209

799

3.0

52

5

12

0

Ronde Barber*

241

232

1025

28.0

47

14

5

1

Ray Buchanan

184

165

697

3.5

47

4

1

0

Dale Carter

156

127

n/a

1.0

24

4

4

0

Nate Clements

178

168

670

4.5

36

9

1

0

Aaron Glenn

205

176

549

1.0

41

8

3

0

Darrell Green

295

258

1159

1.0

54

8

7

2

DeAngelo Hall*

133

127

501

2.5

39

6

3

0

James Hasty

206

200

846

10.0

45

5

2

0

Ty Law

203

189

713

5.0

53

7

5

3

Sam Madison

173

154

378

2.0

38

3

4

1

Chris McAlister

137

127

386

0.0

26

7

3

1

Ryan McNeil

161

136

595

1.0

31

3

1

0

Deltha O'Neal

132

85

343

1.0

34

6

2

0

Asante Samuel*

146

122

367

0.0

50

6

4

2

Deion Sanders

188

157

492

1.0

53

22

8

2

Shawn Springs

169

155

624

8.5

33

4

1

0

Patrick Surtain

163

131

425

7.5

37

2

3

0

Charles Tillman*

146

142

704

3.0

33

9

2

0

Troy Vincent

207

200

738

5.5

47

3

5

0

Aeneas Williams

211

207

677

3.0

55

13

8

0

Antoine Winfield*

191

173

897

7.5

27

5

3

0

Charles Woodson

206

203

778

17.0

55

12

8

1

Rod Woodson

238

229

1050

13.5

71

17

11

1

 

* Still active through the 2012 season

 

Okay, that list is obviously a little longer than it needs to be.  There's no way that 26 cornerbacks from the last two decades or so are going to even get serious consideration for the Hall of Fame.  But, like I said, I was trying to be thorough, and that's most of the cornerbacks who had multiple Pro Bowl honors, high interception totals or a name that just jumped out at me.  Anyway, it's still useful to get a very deep comparison of Barber against his contemporaries at the cornerback position.

 

We don't need to worry about Green, Sanders or Rod Woodson; they're already in and we compared Barber to them in the first chart.  Among the rest, Barber blows away most of the competition.  Among the non-Hall-of-Famers he ranks first in games, first in starts, first in tackles, first in sacks, first in touchdowns and tied for sixth in interceptions.  Plus, he's one of only six non-Hall players on the list with at least one Super Bowl championship ring.

 

The number lines that look the most similar to Barber's on this list are Aeneas Williams and Charles Woodson, and that's good company to keep.  Williams was a Hall of Fame finalist each of the last two years and Woodson is sure to get serious consideration five years after he retires.  Otherwise, Champ Bailey and Ty Law appear to be Barber's top cornerback competition for the Hall in the coming years, if you want to look at it that way.

 

So, Damien, what do you think?  The Answer Man can't look at that evidence and conclude anything but a Hall of Fame future for Barber.  Is he a "sure-fire first-ballot" Hall of Famer?  For the reasons I spelled out above, that prediction is just too strong for me to make.  But I think he's a lock for the Hall and very possibly a first-ballot guy.

 

**

 

2. Jared of Tampa, Florida asks:

Wadup A-Man Hey me and a buddy got into an argument about nike and the nfl!! i have seen on two different photos of buccaneers wearing nike checks on the old orange uni's and also the early crossover years into pewter once!!! Could you prove this right!!!!!

 

Answer Man: Does your buddy win something if I prove you wrong?  Maybe an exclamation point or two; you seem to have a surplus.  Whatever it is, I want my cut, because I'm about to make your buddy happy and you blue.

 

As both you and your buddy and the rest of the free world was surely made aware last year, Nike took over as the official outfitter for NFL teams in 2012, inheriting the gig from Reebok.  The results were far less drastic than many traditionalists out there feared, given some of the crazy Nike uniforms that had recently popped up in the NCAA.  Some didn't like the collars, but for the most part Nike focused more on "technology" with the NFL unis than significant changes in appearance.

 

The thing is, Nike had been in the NFL uniform business before.  They outfitted not the whole league but a handful of teams in the mid-90s.  The most drastic change they made to any team back then were the uniforms the Broncos unveiled in 1997 and are still wearing today.

 

Sorry, Jared, but the Buccaneers were not one of those teams that Nike had in the mid-90s.  The Bucs were outfitted by Russell Athletic from 1993-95, by Wilson in 1996 and 1997 and then by Adidas from 1998-01.  In 2002, the entire NFL, including the Bucs, went Reebok.  I know this because I have painstakingly gone through our image files, season by season, to see what logos were on the Bucs' jerseys in those years.  No Nike, before or after the switch to pewter and red…until last year, of course.

 

**

 

3. Bruce of Tampa, Florida asks:

I know that some people refer to the winners of the Super Bowl as World Champions. It is now small job to win the Super Bowl but the last time I looked there are not other countries in the NFL therefore they are not World Champions. Why do they refer to winners of the Super Bowl as World Champions?

 

Answer Man: I've seen this question before and my reaction to it is usually somewhere along the lines of, "Who cares?"

 

I mean, do we really need to be that pedantic?  Personally, I always use the phrase, "Super Bowl Champions," or sometimes, "NFL Champions," but it doesn't bother me one bit when someone says World Champions.  And it would be bad if I did, because the Buccaneers entitled their official book of the 2002 season, "World Champions."

 

I get the argument in baseball.  They go right ahead and put the "World" in the title of their championship series, even though there is A LOT of really good baseball being played around the world, outside the U.S. and Canada.  I could see quite a few leagues around the globe being irritated by the MLB champ referring to itself as World Champions.

 

That's not really the case with American football, however, is it?  The NFL continues to work towards making America's most popular sport more global, but no one could say with a straight face that there is another league out there that comes close to rivaling the NFL.  Strictly speaking, it's presumptuous for the Super Bowl winner to declare itself "World Champions," but, honestly, who exactly is that insulting or minimizing?

 

That's why I just can't get worked up about this whole issue like you do, Bruce.  And that's saying a lot coming from somebody who wants to run screaming into traffic every time I see Super Bowl written as one word.

 

**

 

Okay, that wasn't exactly "short," but I get fired up when it comes to Ronde Barber's Hall candidacy.  Assuming my mailbox continues to fill up, I'll be back soon to provide more answers for Buc fans.  Again, click here to send in your question.