CB Ronde Barber was restricted by the Pro Bowl's rules but still had a noteworthy game
Tiki Barber, interviewed on the sideline near the end of his first Pro Bowl, indicated how much he was enjoying his participation in what he called "some semblance of football."
That's the thing about the National Football League's annual all-star game: It's a tremendous honor to be chosen and it is undoubtedly a gathering of the finest football talent in the world – it's even a rather enjoyable show – but it is not necessarily the most representative game of its sport.
So, if you're playing in the Pro Bowl, and particularly if you're on defense, you take the competition where you can get it, try your best to win within the rules and enjoy the fact that you're on an all-expenses-paid, week-long trip to Hawaii.
Ronde and Tiki Barber, the first pair of twins ever to play in the same Pro Bowl, definitely enjoyed the week, including Sunday's game, which was won by the AFC, 38-27. Neither figured too prominently in the final score, but they most certainly confirmed that they belonged among the league's elite. In fact, the brothers made an instant splash, turning in the first big plays of the game on both offense and defense.
The AFC had the game's first possession and tried to go up top on the first snap, with Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning throwing deep over the middle to Cincinnati WR Chad Johnson. Ronde closed quickly to break up what could have been an enormous gain, maybe even a touchdown.
Despite a successful fake punt that extended that first drive, the AFC eventually had to punt. After an incompletion by Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb on the NFC's first play from scrimmage, Tiki, the New York Giants running back, scampered 21 yards on his first carry of the game.
Ronde finished with four tackles and a pass defensed. Tiki had a game-high 70 rushing yards on just nine carries, and added one catch for six yards. The brothers also scored well in the "lasting-memories" category, in part because they chose to fly their mother, Geraldine, out to Honolulu to enjoy the week with them.
Tiki praised the upbringing he received from Geraldine during his sideline interview. Ronde voiced similar sentiments after the game.
"My mom is the rock of my existence, to tell you the truth," said the Buccaneer star. "We are reflections of her – if you sit down with us, you'll see her. And Tiki and I have always supported each other. We're always competing with each other to be successful, and neither wants to be the one who falls by wayside. We're blessed that it has continued to work out that way for us for so many years, in high school, in college, in the NFL and now at the Pro Bowl.
It was the second Pro Bowl for Ronde, who first went in 2001 and was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' lone competitor in this year's game. Linebacker Derrick Brooks was also selected for his eighth straight all-star appearance, but pulled out of the game due to a knee injury. With that previous experience, Ronde knew going in that the game wasn't designed to help the defenses.
Barber wasn't able to stop Hines Ward on a long, first-half touchdown pass from Manning, but as the game analysts quickly pointed out, there wasn't much the Buccaneer corner could do without safety help. There's a reason why the last dozen Pro Bowls have featured an average of 74 points per game...a defender can hope to turn in a big play or two, but a defense can't do much to stop the opposing offense in the long run. With no blitzes, no stunting, no complicated zones and no press coverage, it's a little bit like the running of the bulls in Pamplona. In other words, enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience but try not to get the horns.
"You can only play two defenses; you're always in off coverage; the defensive backs are really at the mercy of this game," he said. "You understand that, but it's not like you don't care. You don't want to get beat. The biggest thing, really, is that you're playing with all different guys. On the play to Hines Ward and on the other touchdown where [Detroit CB] Dre' [Bly] got beat, the problem was just miscommunication with the safety. In one of our [Buccaneer] games, that would have never happened. Dwight [Smith] and I, Jermaine [Phillips] and I, we understand each other and we know how to work together."
Still, the Bucs' lone representative had a noteworthy game. While the rules limited the coverages the secondary could play, Barber displayed some of what makes him one of the most complete cornerbacks in the game with his four tackles. At one point in the first half, he made an impressive solo tackle on Pittsburgh WR Hines Ward on an end-around; he later did the same to Cincinnati RB Rudi Johnson on a draw play. Buccaneer fans are familiar with Barber's tackling prowess.
"The way you play in this game is not necessarily a reflection of the player that you are," said Barber. "But being here is a reflection of you doing your job very well. There are only so many spots available, and there are 1,500 players in the NFL, so it's a real honor and very rewarding to be chosen."
It was even more enjoyable the second time around for Ronde because Tiki was there to share it with him, and the two brothers flew their mother out, naturally, to share in the week's fun. At the time Tiki gave his sideline interview in the fourth quarter, Ronde was still on the field helping to slow down the star-studded AFC offense. Tiki was enjoying watching his brother in action, just as Ronde did when the NFC offense was on the field.
"This was like an NFL-sponsored family reunion for us – that's what we've been calling it all week," said Ronde with a laugh. "It's been eight years since Tiki and I played together on the same team. I've always loved watching him play, but I've been relegated to seeing him on TV for a long time now. It was great to be live and up close again."