The narrative of Chartric Darby's life might seem pretty obvious, given the obstacles he overcame to eventually fashion a nine-year career in the NFL. Small town, small school, small frame – at least for his chosen profession in football's trenches. A season bouncing around in Baltimore, Indy and Charlotte. A year in the now-defunct NFL Europe. An entire fall toiling on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice squad. And when he did finally make the Buccaneers' active roster in 2001, what did he see in front of him but an entire defensive line made up of first-round draft picks.
The son of a logger from the amusingly named burg of North, South Carolina, Darby was hauling trees at the age of 14, just like everyone in his family, and a good number of the rest of the townsfolk. Obviously, this is where he built the internal fortitude that would push him through those tough times trying to stick in the NFL, right?
Well, while it's almost surely true that Darby had an innate toughness from his upbringing – and his best NFL asset, almost freakish upper-body strength, may have been hewn straight from those logs – that easy narrative might actually be a bit backward. That's because Darby actually credits those early days in the NFL with preparing him for everything else that would come along in life.
"My first couple years were really tough because I was a free agent," he said. "Everything I did, I had to work, work and do extra work. But that made me the person that I am today. It made me persevere through hard times as well as good times, and it made me enjoy each moment. It taught me a whole, whole, whole lot. It taught me about life – you've got to take it one day at a time, you've got to work hard and you've got to prepare yourself to go through any kind of obstacle or anything tough in life.
"When I came to Tampa, when you looked at the front four, all those guys were early draft picks. All of those guys got paid coming out of college. Me, coming in as a free agent, the first time they saw me the organization probably thought I was a camp body. I look at it as, God is good. God was good to me to get me through that hump. I learned a whole lot, and after I had an opportunity to play with a group of guys – [Warren] Sapp, [John] Lynch, [Derrick] Brooks and everybody else – they took me in and treated me just like one of them."
Darby eventually became a valuable reserve behind that star-studded Bucs line in 2001 and 2002 and then stepped into the starting lineup late in '02 when first-round pick Anthony McFarland landed on injured reserve. And that's how Chuck Darby of South Carolina State and, at one point, the Barcelona Dragons, wound up as a starter for the winning team in Super Bowl XXXVII.
That Lombardi Trophy-owning group of Buccaneers from 2002 will be gathering this weekend in Tampa to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their biggest NFL achievement. They will enjoy a private party at team headquarters on Saturday night and then a very public acknowledgement from Buc fans at a halftime ceremony during Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's not a long trek for Darby – he still lives in the Bay area – but it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catch up with virtually every player from that team that came to mean so much to him.
"My fondest memories of that season are going into that huddle and looking at Sapp, Brooks, Lynch, Quarles, Dexter Jackson – my whole surrounding – and seeing a group of guys that believed in each other. It was a group of guys that were willing to take it to the next level. Now seeing all those guys again, all my brothers, that's going to be great. I'm looking forward to talking to them and seeing what they're doing in life, see how everything's going with them. That's going to be incredible. You never forgot that year, how we put everything together, what we learned, where we came from and where we ended."
Darby's last year in Tampa was 2004, after which he jumped to Seattle just in time to take another ride to the Super Bowl with the Seahawks in 2005. You could probably win a few bar bets with this bit of trivia: Name the only two men who played for the Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII and went on to play in another Super Bowl. Darby was one; his Seahawk teammate Joe Jurevicius was the other. Both started for Seattle in Super Bowl XL, which Pittsburgh won, 21-10.
Darby played three seasons in Seattle and another two in Detroit, finally winding up his playing career in 2009. All that time, his heart stayed in the Bay area.
"I never left Tampa, for some reason," he said. "Even when I went to Seattle I kept my house in Tampa. Tampa's just a good place for my family and a good place for me. I love it. Once you move to Tampa, it's hard to go back."
Darby and his wife, Charlette, are raising three kids, daughters Charquise and Charniya and son Chartric, Jr., in the Land O' Lakes area, and he helps coach a local Pop Warner team called the Pasco Predators. The girls play basketball and Chartric, Jr. is about to start flag football.
These days, Darby is still in the family logging business – Darby Logging, naturally – though he says the business has a lot of ups and downs with the current economy. Darby Logging clears 100-acre tracts and hauls all kind of trees, from cypress to oak to several kinds of pine, to local mills. Closer to home, Darby also has his own management company and is getting into life and annuities. Like most of his teammate from that 2002 team, Darby says he is, above all, "enjoying life."
He's definitely going to enjoy this coming weekend. As much as he appreciates the opportunity to reconnect with so many teammates – including such former linemates as Sapp, McFarland and Simeon Rice – he also knows that Sunday's experience is going to be one he'll never forget. The greatest team in franchise history is sure to get an enormous reaction from the Raymond James Stadium crowd at halftime.
"It's going to be a great moment," he said. "It's going to be unexplainable."