The last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started a season without Ronde Barber on their roster was 1996. That offseason the team drafted Barber and he’d been a stalwart on their defense until today when the future Hall of Fame cornerback finally called it career and retired after years of service with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Barber is without a doubt one of the best Buccaneers players to ever grace the organization with his presence. Coming in for the 1997 season, Barber bought right into the Tony Dungy system in Tampa and it’s something he held onto until the day he retired. He lived through four different head coaches and won a Super Bowl, but Barber was so much more valuable to Tampa than people think.
Above anything else, above the sacks and interception totals Barber posted in his career, he was reliable. Since November 21, 1999 Barber has not missed a single game for the Buccaneers which means he has the most consecutive starts by a defensive back in NFL history. That right there shows you what kind of guy Barber was, as nothing could keep him away from his teammates and nothing could stop him from performing at the highest level he thought possible.
Barber gave it his all in his career, and while he gifted Bucs fans with numerous moments of bliss over the years, nothing can top what is greatest moment in Buccaneers history, second only to winning a Super Bowl. In 2002, the Buccaneers were again facing the Philadelphia Eagles — a team that had plagued them in the postseason and ended their dreams time and time again.
But after getting a lead, the Bucs needed to halt the Eagles final drive of the game to ensure a trip to the Super Bowl. Not only did Barber intercept Donovan McNabb, he returned it for a touchdown and the earth shook with the relief, joy and excitement of Bucs fans everywhere. All the frustration of the years the Buccaneers should have made it to the Super Bowl with the defenses they had, Barber couldn’t have more perfectly dashed it with his gleeful interception return off of McNabb.
It’s moments like that Barber will be remembered for, as he has been the ambassador for the Buccaneers through three different regime changes. He was never self-involved, he never a showboat and he cared more about the team than he did anything else. He’s a lock for the Hall of Fame, as his stats speak for themselves.
When the season kicks off an Barber isn’t in uniform, something will feel amiss. Some kids in Tampa have gone their entire lives with Barber being a Buccaneer, so this is almost tragic in a way. But Barber leaves this young Buccaneers team with his grace and his knowledge and even an ounce of that is more valuable than anything anyone who has ever known him has ever possessed.