As Rondé Barber loped into the Veterans Stadium end zone on January 19, 2003, at the end of the most iconic play in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history, he hooked his left arm over his shoulder and used his thumb to point out the name on the back of his jersey. Sixteen years later, that name is going up on the façade at Raymond James Stadium, in much bigger letters, acclaiming Barber's lofty spot in franchise history.
On Tuesday, the Buccaneers announced that Barber will become the 13th person inducted into the team's Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium. It's a fitting honor for the man who wore his jersey in more Buccaneer games than any other player in team annals, just one of the many franchise and NFL records he holds.
Barber's Ring of Honor induction ceremony will take place at halftime of Tampa Bay's home game against the New York Giants on Sunday, September 22, in the third week of the 2019 season. Before and after the ceremony, Barber will be in the Fox broadcast booth, providing color commentary on the game.
The ceremony will include the unveiling of Barber's last name and his jersey number, 20, on the façade below the upper deck on the stadium's east side. There it will join the names of the other 12 members of the Ring of Honor: Lee Roy Selmon, John McKay, Jimmie Giles, Paul Gruber, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott, Doug Williams, John Lynch, Malcolm Glazer, Jon Gruden and Tony Dungy.
Barber, a Hall of Fame semifinalist each of the last two years, is simply one of the most accomplished figures in franchise history, with career that not only stretched longer than any other Buccaneer but also reached some of the greatest heights. He spent his entire playing career in Tampa and continues to have strong ties to the franchise, including his work as a broadcaster for the Bucs' preseason contests.
"Rondé Barber personified greatness on and off the field during his 16 seasons as a Buccaneer and we look forward to honoring his remarkable career this upcoming season," said Owner/Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer. "His achievements are as impressive as they are long, but Rondé’s most defining qualities were his ultra-competitive nature, his passion for this game, and his love of the Tampa Bay community."
Barber's playing career stretched from 1997, when he arrived as a third-round pick out of Virginia, through 2012, making him the only player ever to suit up for 16 Buccaneer seasons. In that time he played in 241 regular-season games and started 232, both franchise records. That included 240 consecutive games from the start of the 1998 season; Barber never missed a game due to injury. He started his last 215 games, the sixth-longest streak of starts by any player in NFL history. That included a run of 200 straight starts at cornerback before he spent most of his final seasons at safety, and that's the longest run of consecutive starts at that position in league history.
Barber's recent attention from the Hall of Fame is unsurprising given the depth and the breadth of his statistical achievements. Those include final totals of 28.0 sacks and 47 interceptions, which make him the only player in NFL history to record at least 25 sacks and at least 40 interceptions. His interceptions are the most in franchise history and his sacks are the most by a cornerback in league history, and the second-most by any defensive back. Barber was a big-play specialist, as evidenced by his 14 non-offensive touchdowns, the fourth most ever by an NFL player. Only Devin Hester (20), Deion Sanders (19) and Rod Woodson (17) had more.
The biggest of those big plays was his interception and 92-yard return for a touchdown in the closing minutes of the 2002 NFC Championship Game, which sealed a 27-10 Buccaneers win over the Philadelphia Eagles and sent the franchise to its first Super Bowl. Tampa Bay would go on to win Super Bowl XXXVII over the Oakland Raiders, 48-21, which means Barber can also call himself a champion.
Barber's surprising sack total are the virtue of him pioneering a position in Tampa Bay's Cover Two defense, which was one of the league's most successful for a solid decade. Though he started as an outside cornerback in Tampa Bay's base defense, he also moved into the slot when the team went to a nickel defense. It was from there that he most often rushed the passer so effectively. In fact, it was just that threat of Barber's blitz, which had produced a sack and a forced fumble earlier in that championship game, that prompted Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to throw to the spot where Barber was waiting to snare it.
Barber's impact on the Bucs' great defenses went beyond interceptions and sacks, as he was also one of the NFL's best tackling cornerbacks. His 1,428 tackles, a total compiled internally by the team during his career, rank second in franchise history only to the 2,198 recorded by Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks. While NFL teams until recently used varying methods to keep unofficial tackle totals, Pro Football Reference has compiled a list of the leading tacklers in NFL history using data external to teams, and Barber is 22nd on that list. Barber is the first cornerback on that list and the third defensive back after safeties Lawyer Milloy and Eugene Robinson.
Barber is also credited internally with a team-record 243 passes defensed. He had at least two interceptions in 14 of his last 15 seasons, peaking at a team single-season record and NFL-high of 10 in 2001. That produced the first of five Pro Bowl invites for Barber, and the first of his three times being named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. He was a second-team choice on two other occasions. His penchant for big plays led to nine different Player of the Week awards (eight on defense, one on special teams), the most ever by a Buccaneer. Barber was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s, he was a team captain for nine consecutive years (2004-12) and he was the Buccaneers' Man of the Year Choice in 2006.
In addition to his interceptions, Barber took the ball way with 15 forced fumbles and 11 fumble recoveries during his career. Eight of his touchdowns came on interception returns, five on fumble returns and one on which he picked up a deflected punt and ran it in, technically adding a punt return score to his ledger.
Barber was a member of seven Buccaneer teams that advanced to the playoffs, and he played in a total of 10 postseason games, starting the last nine. In addition to his unforgettable play in the Vet, Barber picked off another pass during that year's run to the Super Bowl (his touchdown return on that play against San Francisco was nullified by a penalty on a teammate) and racked up 50 tackles, one sack, 11 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise history could not be told without repeated references to Barber's exploits, which include some of the most celebrated moments in those four-plus decades. Now Barber's name will be forever displayed among the team's all-time greats where the Buccaneers play their games, as the Ring of Honor gets ready to welcome its newest member.