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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rondé Barber Set Out to Be Uncommon, Ended up in Canton

As his incredible football journey came to its rightful end at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Sunday, Class of 2023 inductee Rondé Barber reflected on what fueled him early in his career to refuse to be ordinary

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By his own seemingly awestruck admission, Rondé Barber brought his football journey to an end on Saturday when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2023. It was a journey that spanned four decades and didn't always appear to be pointed towards a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio.

Barber, now one of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' most legendary performers, was one of two cornerbacks included in the Class of 2023, as he joined long-time New York Jets star Darrelle Revis, who was also briefly a Buccaneer. Revis was the 14th-overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft and a standout from the moment he stepped on an NFL field. Barber was taken in the middle of the third round of the 1997 draft. Revis was a Pro Bowler by his second season and a first-team All-Pro by his third. Barber had to wait a bit longer for those awards, and was occasionally slighted even later in his career.

"I was not Darrelle Revis," Barber said in his acceptance speech on Saturday. "Trust me, I was not that guy. But not all of us are anointed, right, or are can't-miss prospects, proclaimed to be future Hall-of-Famers on Day One of our career. In fact, most guys are quietly fighting that real crisis of confidence, wondering if you're good enough. And there were plenty of doubts about me. Now that I'm here, I think I owe a very small thanks, to those of you who, for whatever reasons, questioned [me], either undervalued, underestimated [or] underappreciated me. It gave me the motivation to not only outwork my peers but to be better than the expectations of me.

Barber has to include himself among those doubters, at least at one point before he decided to chart his own unique path to greatness. He could barely get on the field as a rookie in 1997, playing in just one regular season game, and was still not feeling particularly settled in his second season, even as he started to get playing time alongside Donnie Abraham and Anthony Parker and began to sprinkle in some of the big plays he would become known for.

"I'm not going to stand up here today and give you ordinary, because I was not an ordinary cornerback," said Barber. "I stand here amongst these legends of the game, remembering a time when I was never imagined to be a Pro Football Hall of Famer. My rookie year…no, my second year in the league I was literally just hoping [General Manager] Rich McKay wasn't going to cut me. I've come a long way in 26 years."

That's 26 years since he was making his way through his first NFL training camp, 16 of which comprised his playing career, all with the Buccaneers. By the time he retired at the end of the 2012 season, Barber had played outside cornerback, nickel corner and safety and had set numerous franchise and NFL records. His most impressive statistical accomplishment is, of course, becoming the only player in league annals to record at least 40 interceptions and at least 25 sacks (he had 47 and 28, respectively). It was no accident that he became attached to such an uncommon set of numbers.

"I set out to be uncommon," said Barber, after realizing in those early years that he had to be different to be great. "I never set out to be one of the best 371 players in professional football. If anything, I wanted to do things that others either could not or would not do. That defined my career. And amongst my peers, I really felt like I had to do more to be equal. Do uncommon things. Find legendary."

He found out. That iconic 40/25 emblem is just the tip of the iceberg on a resume that made his entry into the Hall of Fame – as delayed as it was by about four years – a foregone conclusion. He is the Buccaneers' all-time leader in games played (241), games started (232) and interceptions. He had more career tackles than any other cornerback in league history. His 14 non-offensive touchdowns rank fourth all-time and he is the only player ever to start 200 consecutive games at cornerback. He never missed a game due to injury in his career.

Barber changed the way the slot cornerback position is played in the NFL and long filled a dual role, playing outside in base defenses and inside in the nickel. He also won a Super Bowl as a key part of one of the best defenses in NFL history and had the unforgettable 92-yard pick-six that beat Philadelphia and sent the Bucs to that Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego. He is now the fourth player off that defense in the Hall of Fame, joining Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch, and even that heady company was part of what made his rise to stardom an uphill battle at first.

"Let's face it, I was, what, 'too small, too slow, just a system cornerback' – somebody still needs to tell me what that is because I don't know," said Barber. "It's easy to be marginalized when you're surrounded by Hall of Fame defenders – Sapp, Brooks, Lynch, our man Simeon Rice. They all grabbed a lot of headlines, and early in my career I was simply overlooked. And again, it was the doubt that most bothered me, but it also provided me that fuel, and it sent me to work angry. I was never going to be satisfied just being a guy. I wanted to prove everyone wrong, and ordinary was not an option."

Nor was ordinary the outcome. Rather, it was a gold jacket was waiting for him at the end of the uncommon path Barber carved out for himself. He was flanked by a large crowd of gold jacket owners as he gave his speech on Saturday – including Sapp, Brooks and Lynch – and he knew they all had had their own epiphanies about their football journey's being over. Now it was his turn.

"I can stop being an angry worker," said Barber. "I can actually stop trying to prove everyone wrong. Come a long way in 26 years. After today, there will be 23 corners in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I'm not like any one of them…because I couldn't be. I'm here because I refused to just be a guy. Ordinary was not an option.

"And I learned something along the way in the NFL – it's a special place, man. No matter where you come from, no matter where your journey started, no one gets to define you but you. This league rewards you if you dare to be uncommon and chose to be a little extraordinary."

As Barber wrapped up his speech and stepped away from the podium and towards the bronze bust that will soon join 370 others inside the Hall, he smiled broadly, lifted his right arm, cocked his thumb over his shoulder and pointed towards the spot his name would be on a jersey. It was the same gesture he famously made at the end of that 92-yard jaunt that shut down Veterans Stadium more than two decades ago. Don't worry, Rondé. We definitely all know your name now.

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