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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Unsung Hero

Tampa Bay has eight very deserving Pro Bowlers this year, but there is at least one Buc whose outstanding contributions have gone somewhat unnoticed


CB Ronde Barber's wide range of impressive stats in 2000 includes two touchdowns

In these last nervous hours before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers officially begin their 2000 playoff run, we offer this brief, four-question quiz to pass the time. All four answers will be revealed at the bottom of the test. You may begin now.

  1. Which Buccaneer played the most defensive snaps this year?
  1. Of the 22 Buccaneers who regularly started on offense or defense this season, which one had the most special teams tackles?
  1. Who is the only Tampa Bay player to have at least one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery during the 2000 regular season?
  1. Which Buc defender scored as many points this year as receivers Jacquez Green and Karl Williams, combined?

The answer to each of these four questions, you might be surprised to learn, is the same: Ronde Barber.

You can be forgiven for guessing other players as the answer to any of the above questions, though Barber is the only correct answer in each instance.

For instance, Derrick Brooks certainly played nearly every snap this season, though not quite as many as Barber. Shelton Quarles, the starter at strongside linebacker, has been a special teams star for years. Pro Bowlers such as Brooks, John Lynch and Donnie Abraham obviously could have combined a sack, interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery this year to no one's surprise. And five different Tampa Bay defenders have scored touchdowns this season.

But only Barber has accomplished all of this, and he has done it with very little fanfare.

Oh, sure, he was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after recording an amazing 2.5 sacks in Tampa Bay's 41-0 blanking of Chicago. And, yes, he did do very well in the NFL's online portion of the Pro Bowl balloting. For the most part, however, Barber has conceded the spotlight to such national luminaries as Brooks, Lynch and DT Warren Sapp.

Nevertheless, he does not feel slighted in any way.

"Not really," said Barber. "I think I've had my fair share (of publicity). I keep saying with so many guys on this team, on this defense, playing well, it's impossible to get singled out for all that stuff. I don't really worry about it. I think it will show up when it needs to show up."

One place Barber has no shortage of admirers is One Buccaneer Place, but even those in the know were foiled by our little quiz above. The test was presented to members of such Buc departments as scouting, which evaluates talent, video, which films every play of every practice and every game, communications, which publicizes the good works of its players, and coaching, whose duties are obvious. The success rate was dismal…in fact, only Assistant Video Director Pat Brazil correctly answered all four questions. Give him a star.

Maybe contact breeds familiarity, because Barber has spent many a lunch hour in the video department, watching a little extra game footage. It's the secret behind Barber's consistently outstanding play; not the extra film work, per se, but the extra effort he puts into his profession.

"I just don't like failing at anything," said Barber. "I put my mind to doing it, and I want to be the best at it, regardless if it's interceptions, sacks, being a businessman, if that ever happens. I just want to be known as someone who goes hard at everything and is successful at it because he works hard."

By that barometer, Barber should be quite pleased with his 2000 regular season. There was very little at which he failed.

Barber had as many tackles, 97, as the team's middle linebacker. He had more sacks, 5.5, than the starting left defensive end. He had more touchdowns, two, than one of the starting receivers. He had six kick coverage tackles; the rest of the team's 22 usual starters combined for six. He had more passes defensed, 20, than any Buc other than Abraham, perhaps the best cornerback in Tampa Bay history.

His two touchdowns this season occurred on a 24-yard fumble return and a 37-yard interception return. When Sapp blocked a Vikings field goal attempt in Minnesota on October 9 and Abraham scooped it up and returned it 66 yards for a touchdown, Barber was glued to Abraham's hip, running interference. Barber also owns a 23-yard punt return touchdown and has averaged 28.8 yards per runback on his six career interceptions, the second-best average in team history.

The numbers just pile on top of each other, but they never quite seem to add up to star-power breakthrough. This doesn't bother Barber, who sees himself as a hardworking cog in the Bucs' stellar defense. The season-ending Pro Bowl spots went to the Buc with 16.5 sacks, the man with seven interceptions, the 180-tackle linebacker, the record-breaking kicker…not the jack of all trades.

"I like being able to do everything and not being classified as one-dimensional or whatever, but I guess it would be nice to excel a little bit in one of them," said Barber. "Something like that would be outstanding, but it will happen. I just come out and play hard; when good things happen it's just indicative of how I play."

Oh, by the way, one other person failed the Ronde Barber quiz above: Ronde Barber himself.

This is another aspect of the man that perhaps has contributed to his low profile. He is certainly confident, but rarely comes off as cocky. As he read the list of questions, the gist of what he was looking at didn't dawn on him until question number four, about which time he asked, "Is it me?"

Barber, you see, isn't thinking about what he has already put into his stat sheet, but what he can accomplish next. He doesn't believe he has reached the apex of his performance just yet.

"I think it can get better," said Barber. "I definitely think it can get better. I started to feel real comfortable in training camp. But I don't feel like I've peaked out…I think I have a ways to go."

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