CB Ronde Barber has played in two previous Pro Bowls but he still doesn't take the league's all-star game for granted
Yes, Ronde Barber has plans for Sunday afternoon and evening, and they are the same as millions of other American men on this watershed weekend.
He's going to play with his kids.
Oh, sure, Barber will probably take in the sights and sounds of Super Bowl XL along with the rest of the nation. After all, it represents the pinnacle of his chosen field, and it's a pretty interesting game, to boot. He has a professional interest; his own team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, bowed out of the Super Bowl chase in the Wild Card weekend with a loss to the Washington Redskins and the resulting month has isolated Seattle and Pittsburgh as the final two competitors. Barber undoubtedly feels as if the Buccaneers should still be playing.
So, yes, the game will be on. But this Sunday's hours are too precious in the Barber household to spend on football alone.
That's because it's his last day at home for awhile. Beginning with a long flight on Monday, Ronde and his wife Claudia will be out of town for 10 straight days. The destination: Hawaii.
You see, Barber's own season is not quite done. A week after the Super Bowl, he will join about 100 NFL stars in the Pro Bowl in Honolulu. That, too, represents the pinnacle of his profession, in an individual sense. Barber, who will be making his third appearance in the NFL all-star game, and his second in a row, is going to turn the trip into a lengthy vacation for him and Claudia. That's a week and a half away from their two young daughters, however.
"I'm not going anywhere [Sunday]," said Barber. "We're just going to watch the game at home. I want to stay with the kids all day because we're going to be gone for 10 days."
The 2006 Pro Bowl will be played on February 12, with kickoff scheduled for 6:00 p.m. ET. That will be right about at the middle of the his offseason jaunt, at the end of a week of practices and a short time before a side trip to Maui. Barber will be accompanied by Claudia and some close friends as they enjoy all the islands have to offer, including some unparalleled golf courses.
The main focus of the trip, however, is still next Sunday's game. Though it is mainly a showcase for the league's stars, played a full week after the sport's most important trophy is handed out, it is still a game. Professional athletes like Barber can't help but take that seriously.
"It's still important to win," said Barber, who saw his NFC squad go down to defeat last year and in February, 2002. "It doesn't really feel that way at first, but then it kicks in about halfway through the second quarter, when you realize you have a chance to win. Forget the money [the winning team gets a larger share of the game's bonus]; you're still concerned with representing your conference. It's not just about showing up – it's important to play well. Once you get into the game, you realize it's not just a vacation."
Last year, Barber also started for the NFC squad and finished the game with four tackles and a pass defensed. Though his side lost, the game was memorable for him as it was the first time he could share it with his twin brother, New York Giants running back Tiki Barber, another 2004 all-star pick. Ronde's selection following a 10-interception season in 2001 was also special as it marked his breakthrough into the league's elite.
There is seemingly little new about this year's trip, but Barber still feels its significance.
"It's still the Pro Bowl," he said. "It's still the top players at each position in the two conferences. It's a wonderful piece of recognition, and it always will be. What makes it great every year is all of the other amazing players who are there. Believe me, it is still an honor just to be mentioned in the same breath with some of them. It is also validating. I strive to be the best in the league at my position, and it's nice to be recognized as that."
In addition to his third Pro Bowl nod, Barber also achieved his third Associated Press All-Pro First-Team selection this year. In a way, that's an even larger honor, as the AP picks one team for the whole NFL, not each conference, and just enough to fill out a starting lineup. It is a more exclusive honor, and it's also from a different source, as the AP team is picked by a panel of media that covers the sport.
"The AP deal is really an honor," said Barber. "As great as the Pro Bowl is, you can never be sure about the voting, what's going to happen. For the AP team, only two guys get voted in; they're the best at their positions. That never gets old, and neither does the Pro Bowl. You feel like you do your job well and it's nice when the rest of the league and those who watch it think the same thing."
Barber will be joined in next Sunday's game by teammates Derrick Brooks and Josh Bidwell. Brooks, like Barber, is a starter on the NFC defense. Brooks is even more familiar with the trip to Hawaii, having been picked for the Pro Bowl for nine straight years. Those are the only two Bucs in the game, though the 11-5 NFC South champions had a number of alternate selections, none of whom got the call due to other players' cancellations.
That leaves the Bucs with one of their smallest all-star contingents of the past decade. It does not shut out Buccaneers.com, however. As he has in the past, Barber has agreed to share the Pro Bowl experience with readers of the team's official web site. Next week, look for periodic updates from the islands by Barber, culminating in a postgame interview next Sunday.
Barber will be providing his updates across a gulf of five time zones, which means imperfect planning could lead to some very early morning or very late night phone calls. Even that, if it happens, won't upset this ideal 10-day vacation for the Bucs' all-star cornerback.
"You know," he said, "it's so relaxing out there, I don't think anything could really bother me."