In introducing Rondé Barber at Tuesday's Ring of Honor press conference, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Owner/Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer had plenty of numbers to choose from in Barber's overflowing career stat line.
And Glazer definitely highlighted some of the most impressive numbers on the list. The 47 interceptions and 28 sacks that make Barber the only 40/25 player in NFL history. The 1,428 tackles, almost unheard of for a cornerback and second only to Derrick Brooks in franchise annals. The five Pro Bowls. One can go on and on in this vein, as we have certainly done in the past and will do again when Hall of Fame noise ratchets up again next winter.
But Glazer also knows Barber as a member of the Buccaneers family and a pillar in the Bay area community, so he went beyond the numbers when stating Barber's case for the Ring of Honor.
"The true measure of greatness is when you can leave a lasting legacy off the field that matches all of those on-field accomplishments," said Glazer. "Rondé Barber has certainly done all that."
Barber left a deep impression on the franchise, and the community left a deep impression on him, to the point that he says he wants him and his family to remain in the Bay area always. And the reason those things happened is that Rondé Barber was always there.
It's here that we circle back to those aforementioned numbers. Barber played for one team, the Buccaneers, for 16 seasons. He set franchise records with 241 games played and 232 starts. Two hundred and 40 of those games came in an unbroken streak from Week One of the 1998 season through Week 17 of 2012. Barber has the third-most starts by a defensive back in NFL history, and he's the only player ever to start 200 straight games at cornerback. Through 15 years, the Buccaneers never took the field without him. He was always there.
"There was nothing that was going to keep me off the field," said Barber. "I felt like I was better at half-speed than the guy behind me. And that may not have been true, but that was my approach."
Barber played only one game in his 1997 rookie season, but that was a coaching decision and not due to any physical ailments. He never missed a game due to injury, which seems just short of impossible in the NFL. That is not the same thing, however, as never sustaining an injury. Barber got hurt, but he would essentially refuse to acknowledge it. He did any recovery work at home and stayed out of the training room, which he now says made him the favorite of then-Head Trainer Todd Toriscelli. He kept his mouth shut when the injury report was being filled out.
"You don't play 15 straight years, 16 games in a row, without some fudging on the injury report," said Barber with a laugh, though he was always deadly serious about suiting up for each game. "I never wanted to see anybody else do my job. That's the way I approached it. I know some of that's changed; the money's different now. But as far as I was concerned, aside from a broken bone that I couldn't [play through], I was going to play. Pulled hamstrings, quad – which I did. I actually scored my first touchdown in the NFL, an interception for a touchdown, with a pulled quad."
There had to be some luck involved for Barber to make it through those 15 seasons. The same was true for his long-time teammate, Derrick Brooks, who played 14 seasons and 224 consecutive games without ever missing one, and who also powered through his own various injuries. For instance, Barber says the broken forearm he suffered in the 2011 season finale would have kept him from playing if there had been a game the next week.
"Shoot, the way our defense was, nobody wanted to miss a game," said another former teammate who attended Barber's press conference, Super Bowl XXXVII MVP Dexter Jackson. "We felt like if we missed a game we were letting our teammates down. It was just his work ethic and the way he prepared himself to get ready to play every weekend that got him through it. Every player wanted to play every game; unfortunately it doesn't happen that way for everybody. Rondé was one of those guys, him and Derrick Brooks."
Barber's and Brooks' streaks overlapped from 1998 through 2008, though it took everyone a little while to realize how remarkable their gameday dependability was becoming.
"As it got to 12 or 13 years into his career, we suddenly realized, 'Damn, Rondé hasn't missed a game?'" recalled Jackson. "People started to talking about that and bringing it to everyone's attention. We didn't know he'd gone 13 years without missing a game. Once that got out we were like, 'Dang, that's Mr. Iron Man.' Then Derrick Brooks said, 'I haven't missed a game either!' So then it became a competition – who's going to miss a game first?"
Neither did. Brooks' streak went right up through his final game in 2008, and the same was true for Barber in 2012. Brooks' run began with his first game as a rookie, but Barber had to wait until Year Two to get on a roll. After sitting out most of his rookie season, he got the call to play nickel in the Buccaneers' Divisional Playoff Game in Green Bay. He used that as a springboard for the following season, though Floyd Young, his good friend, started 1998 as the nickel back. That didn't last long as Randy Moss' elected NFL debut – four catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns against the Bucs – caused some lineup shuffling. Then starting corner Anthony Parker suffered an injury at midseason and by the time he got back, Barber had his job.
Barber recognized what had happened in his ascension to the top of the depth chart and vowed not to let it happen to him.
"Floyd Young didn't play that second week because of the game that Randy Moss had Week One, and I took off," Barber said. "Go back to the game [Parker] got hurt – that's when Rondé Barber became Rondé Barber. I took my opportunity when he was gone and never let it go. And to be honest with you, that stuck with me for the rest of my career. We drafted a lot of corners. We drafted a guy right after me, Brian Kelly, who I have the utmost respect for. But with Donnie [Abraham], myself and Brian, there was competition.
"That's what it was. It was the competition. It was the fear of failure. I wanted to be better than those guys, and '98 was the year that came to fruition."
Barber never lost that edge, or his spot in the lineup, and he retired in 2013 on his terms. He was never uprooted; instead he put down roots.
"Sixteen years in one place in today's NFL is unheard of," he said. "And I've had a blessing, really, to be in place for this long, and to become more than just an employee for them. I think we all feel that way, at least in this building.
"This is important to me because of the community. I love this community. We brought property in Virginia and thought about moving there and then [thought], 'Why would we leave here?' Everything that I gave here has been given back to me a thousand-fold. I don't think I could ever leave that behind."
View some of the best pictures from Rondé Barber's Ring of Honor Press Conference at the AdventHealth Training Center.