What opponents, injury or even free agency couldn't do to Ronde Barber, he has now chosen to do himself, on his own terms and at his own time.
After 16 seasons in which he never missed a game due to injury and never wore any uniform other than that of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ronde Barber has chosen to take that jersey off for good and retire from the NFL. He will formally make the announcement at a press conference at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday at 2:00 p.m. ET.
"Ronde is synonymous with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, establishing himself as one of our franchise's iconic players over a 16-year, Hall of Fame-worthy career," said Buccaneers Co-Chairman Joel Glazer. "When anyone thinks of Ronde, they think of a true professional and leader. He approached every day the same, giving everything he had to make himself and his teammates the best they could be. We will miss him."
And so one of the greatest careers in the four-decade history of the Buccaneers – and, indeed, one of the most accomplished runs by any NFL defensive back ever – has come to an end. Only now can it be properly celebrated.
In fact, Barber's retirement can actually be seen as a beginning – now the clock on his five-year waiting period for Pro Football Hall of Fame eligibility can start ticking. A review of the numbers and achievements on Barber's NFL resume suggest he could get the call to Canton as soon as he is eligible in 2017. Some of those most memorable accomplishments:
- Recording 47 interceptions and 28 sacks in his career, making him the only player in NFL history with at least 40 picks and 25 sacks;
- Amassing more sacks than any other cornerback in league history as well as the 16th most interception return yards;
- Making 200 of his 232 career starts consecutively at cornerback, the longest such streak by any cornerback in NFL history;
- Became the only defensive back since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to start each one of his team's games for 12 consecutive seasons;
- Earning five trips to the Pro Bowl and five Associated Press All-Pro selections, three first-team and two second-team;
- Scoring a remarkable 14 non-offensive touchdowns (plus a 15th in the playoffs), the fourth-best total in NFL history behind only Deion Sanders, Devin Hester and Rod Woodson;
- Being named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s;
- Winning nine NFC Player of the Week Awards (plus one in the postseason), the most in franchise history;
- Being a key part of 11 top-10 defenses and three number one-ranked pass defenses; and, of course…
- Helping lead the 2002 Buccaneers to the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history.
In February, defensive tackle Warren Sapp – one of Barber's long-time teammates – became the second player voted into the Hall of Fame who spent the majority of his career as a Buccaneer. Others may follow in the coming years, including Derrick Brooks and John Lynch, who were also part of that great Buccaneers' defense that emerged in the late '90s. Brooks and Lynch are obviously very deserving candidates, but Barber is most assuredly on the same level. While Sapp, Brooks and Lynch became known as "The Big Three" that led to the Buccaneers' emergence as a defensive powerhouse, Barber – through utter dependability, unmatched longevity and a knack for the enormous play – has come to mean as much to the Buccaneers franchise as his three brothers in arms.
Consider this: No man has played more games as a Buccaneer (241) than Ronde Barber. No Buccaneer has started more games (232) or more consecutive games (215) than Ronde Barber. No Buccaneer has recorded more interceptions (47), racked up more interception return yards (923), scored more non-offensive touchdowns (14, plus one in the playoffs) or knocked down more passes (243). Only Brooks had more tackles than Barber's 1,428, which is a stunning career total for a cornerback. Only six players, all defensive linemen, had more sacks in Buccaneer history than Barber's 28. Only Brooks has played in more postseason games as a Buc than Barber's 10. Barber holds the team single-season (10, in 2000) and single-game (three, accomplished twice) records for interceptions.
And, like some of the other great pillars in Buccaneer history, Barber was the consummate professional every single day of his career. He led his teammates by example with his utter devotion to his craft, and he fostered countless fans with his demeanor on and off the field. He was rarely the team's most vocal spokesman, but he had the utmost respect of the media, in part because he always spoke directly and without clichés or hyperbole.
And, oh, the big plays. Barber, of course, authored the play that most Buccaneer fans consider the single greatest highlight in franchise history, his 92-yard interception return for a touchdown in the 2002 NFC Championship Game that sealed the Bucs' first Super Bowl trip. Pictures of that play as it developed can be seen all over the walls inside One Buccaneer Place. He also had a critical sack and forced fumble in that same game at Philadelphia on January 19, 2003.
Barber is one of the 26 men in NFL history, and the only Buccaneer, who have returned two interceptions for scores in the same game, accomplishing that feat against Philadelphia on October 22, 2006. That game is best remembered for Matt Bryant's game-winning team-record 62-yard field goal, but the Bucs wouldn't have been in position for the win without Barber's heroics. Just this past season, Barber was judged by NFL.com to have turned in one of the top 20 plays of the season when he plucked a deflected ball just off the edge of the grass with his fingertips and ran 78 yards for a touchdown against Kansas City on October 14. He once had a defensive-end-like 2.5 sacks in a single game against the Chicago Bears (Sept. 10, 2000). In the first outstanding performance by what would prove to be a historically-good Buccaneer defense in 2002, Barber helped produced a shutout at Baltimore (Sept. 15) by breaking up six passes on his own. On Dec. 11, 2005, the Bucs faced what was essentially a must-win game in Carolina in their quest to win the NFC South title, and Barber keyed a 20-10 victory with the 20th sack of his career and a goal-line interception.
Ronde Barber played for a remarkable 16 seasons, and in the 16th one even assumed a new position, safety, playing it well enough to earn Pro Bowl alternate status. As such, a comprehensive list of his biggest plays and most memorable moments would stretch on and on. Suffice it to say that he will forever be remembered as one of the greatest players ever to put on a Buccaneer uniform. His career came to an end on Wednesday, but his impact on the NFL's 27th franchise will be felt for a very long time.