Ronde Barber is as excited about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season opener on Sunday as any rookie on the team, because he knows each NFL contest is a relative rarity.
"I get excited for every game," he said on Wednesday, four days before the Carolina Panthers' Week One visit to Raymond James Stadium. "Coach [Greg Schiano] likes to say that this one of just 16 opportunities we have. There are a very minimal number of chances to strap it up and play, and you don't know when you're going to get another opportunity."
The remarkable thing about that particular sentiment being uttered by that particular player is that Barber has had far more opportunities to play than all but a handful of his peers. He has played in 225 games as a pro, and started 216, numbers that take a while to reach when counted 16 at a time. On Sunday, he will make his landmark 200th consecutive start, extending the all-time NFL record he already holds for defensive backs.
Barber's speech is almost always unembellished, unburdened by the typical sports clichés. He gives straightforward, honest answers and isn't prone to either hyperbole or, at the other end of the spectrum, stock answers. The Buccaneers will be honoring him throughout the game on Sunday, and on Wednesday he made it clear that it was both a special occasion for him and business as usual.
"To me, it's another start," he said. "I've been fortunate to be able to do this for a long time. I've got an organization that's believed in me for 14 years, or however many years that streak goes over. So it's a little bit of an honor, but I'm preparing for it like any other week.
"There will be a lot more fanfare surrounding me, of course, with the 'Ronde Barber Day.' It will be somewhat special. I got more ticket requests than I've ever had for any game, but that's just part of it. It's nice to be recognized for an achievement, but it's part of coming to work every day."
Barber's starts streak surpassed the previous record for defensive backs of 171 by Dick LeBeau nearly two seasons ago, and he hasn't slowed down since. He says he doesn't think it's likely that another cornerback will catch his new record. He made the transition from cornerback to safety this year and remains an integral part of the defense at age 37. He already owns the Bucs' record for most games played (225) and is just five starts behind Derrick Brooks (221 to 216) on that list in team history. He is subject to the same grind that every NFL player fights through, and he has surely had his share of aches and pains, but he essentially never appears on an official injury report.
That's why he's at 200 and still going strong, and it's not a matter of luck.
"I've been fortunate not to be hurt, but I don't believe in luck," said Barber. "I'm a guy that takes care of the things I need to take care of. But I've been fortunate, for sure."