CB Ronde Barber is second among all active NFL defensive backs with 18 career sacks
Think of Jack Lambert, Mike Singletary, Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White. How do you remember these National Football League greats?
We'll go first. There was Lambert with the gap-toothed snarl, the Dracula-in-cleats image that may have been overblown but still reflected the intensity with which he played. Singletary had the eyes, wide open to the point of sticking that way, locked in, broadcasting the frenetic energy he was about to release. And LT, all he did was come off the edge like no linebacker before or since, burying quarterbacks without mercy. And Reggie White simply produced, year after year, until he was, when it was all said and done, maybe the best end ever.
Maybe you remember them differently. The point is, if you've been a fan of the NFL game for very long at all, you remember them. If they were before your time, you've certainly heard of them. They are legends of the game.
Ten, fifteen, 20 years from now, people may recall Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks in the same way.
After all, Lambert, Singletary, Taylor, White and – yes – Brooks are the only five players in National Football League history who have done each of the following: Earned eight Pro Bowl bids, won a Super Bowl and been named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Those are credentials that simply can't be ignored.
Of all of those, Brooks might be most analogous with Singletary; he isn't a middle linebacker like the former Chicago great, but he's the same sort of cerebral player, and the same sort of intense playmaker. And before we go too far with this, here's another thing: Brooks might not be comfortable with this sort of myth-making turn. A dedicated servant to the community, he feels more strongly about touching lives than earning additional honors.
"Making an impact, seeing these young men that are going through situations and young women that come out to visit us is far more important than football," said Brooks after learning of his eighth Pro Bowl selection and meeting an ailing fan on the same day. "It keeps everything in perspective for me. For this young man to have his wish in life to meet me is really humbling. It gives me perspective on what is really important in life."
Actually, most of the Bucs profess that same attitude towards the Pro Bowl. It's a great honor, but it's mostly out of their control, and it doesn't affect how they feel about themselves as players. That's certainly the way Ronde Barber felt about his chances of making the all-star game for a second time, before Wednesday.
Playing cornerback, Barber knew that his best chance to get back to Hawaii was to rack up the interceptions, and that's a particularly difficult statistic to predict. A great defensive end like White, or Simeon Rice, can reasonably expect to get 10 sacks a year, and a great linebacker like Singletary or Brooks can pile one 150-tackle season on another. But a great cornerback isn't necessarily going to get the opportunity to make six or seven interceptions. Barber is a great cornerback and he had 10 interceptions in 2001, his first Pro Bowl season, but he hasn't had more than three in any other year. For that matter, Deion Sanders, thought by many to be the ultimate playmaker at cornerback, has had more seasons with three or fewer interceptions (seven) than seasons with four or more (six).
Play an all-around game, like Barber unquestionably does, and there's no guarantee that you'll be an all-star cornerback, by name, at season's end. This year, however, voters apparently couldn't overlook Barber's 92 tackles, three picks, three sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, nine tackles for loss and 11 passes defensed.
To be honest, those numbers aren't drastically different from what he put up in 2002 and 2003. For that reason, the even-keeled Barber was prepared to accept his snub again this year; instead, he was pleasantly surprised, and grateful.
"I am excited about it," he said, and maybe even more so because his twin brother, N.Y. Giants running back Tiki Barber, was also selected. "I was there in 2001 and thought that I have had good seasons since then. I think everybody recognizes that and I am glad to be going back."
Barber's NFL career, which began two years after Brooks's, may not yet have the same obvious comparisons to Hall of Famers. You only have to dig a little deeper, however, to see how special he has been in a Buccaneer uniform.
Among all active defensive backs, Barber is second in the NFL with 18 career sacks. The leader, New England's Rodney Harrison (27.5 sacks) is a safety and thus a more traditional blitzer. With just two more sacks, Barber could reach the rarified 20/20 air – 20 interceptions and 20 sacks. He would be the first cornerback to do so.
Those kind of career stats don't necessarily jump out at you the way Brooks' Player of the Year award does, or White's 192.5 career sacks. But they do mark a quietly outstanding career, and this year, thank goodness, they gained enough attention to put Barber back in the Pro Bowl.
That was good news to Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden, who had feared his playmaking corner would be shortchanged again.
"That's great," said Gruden. "I'm so excited for him. Here's a guy who truly deserves it. I thought he was overlooked a little bit the last couple years. He's had a great season and we're happy for him, obviously. Derrick Brooks is another great football player who's well-deserving."
Perhaps Barber should have been more optimistic about his chances. Gruden had tried to make him believe that recognition was inevitable.
"He told me people are taking notice and I guess it shows," said Barber.