Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tampa Bay Loses a Champion: 38-year old Ronde Barber Officially Announces Retirement

In Tampa earlier today, 16-year veteran defensive back Ronde Barber officially announced his retirement from the National Football League in a tear-ridden press conference.

The long-time Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback finished his final professional season in 2012 with a very productive 16 games. Barber, 38, made the switch to free safety after playing corner for his entire career and accumulated 91 combined tackles, 4 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 1.0 sack and a defensive touchdown in his final go 'round.

The five-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion was never quite the shutdown corner that Charles Woodson or Deion Sanders were in the prime of their respective careers, but there's no doubt Barber has been the most consistent piece on the Bucs' defense over the past decade and a half. He hasn't missed a start since the 1999 season. That's dedication.

With over 1,200 combined tackles, 47 interceptions, 28.0 sacks in his 232 starts for the Bucs, Barber turned in a borderline Hall of Fame-caliber career. Ronde is Tampa's franchise leader in games (241), interceptions (47), interception yards (923), defensive TDs (12 INT/FR) and passes defensed (166) as well as top 6 in sacks (28.0), forced fumbles (15), fumbles recovered (12) and combined tackles (1,231).
His production was through the roof, and he made a couple of huge plays in the postseason as well. His 92-yard interception touchdown of a Donovan McNabb pass sealed a 27-10 NFC Championship victory over the Eagles on their way to a record-breaking Super Bowl XXXVII victory in 2002-03. His interception will forever be what the Bucs fan base remembers him for most. A play that put them into the Super Bowl for the first time ever. What made the play even sweeter was the fact that it came against the team that knocked them out of the postseason the previous two seasons, outscoring them 52-12 during those games.

With all of his accomplishments, including the ultimate goal of capturing a Vince Lombardi trophy, the decision seemed simple for Barber to hang up his cleats. He was forced into switching to free safety prior to last season, and with a revamped secondary for 2013 he likely would have seen less of the field. The Bucs clearly want to get younger and bring in youth to build from the bottom up, and Barber realized this. In his press conference (which I've included a link to at the bottom of this article), Barber mentions that he made the decision a month ago and that he believes it's the correct decision.

Barber's done all he can in this game, and he's already cemented his legacy with the franchise. He'll sit among Hall of Fame-bound defensive tackle Warren Sapp as one of the best Bucs players in history: Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Barber, John Lynch. That's how the list looks at this moment in time, all four are defensive players, too. Barber's announcement makes him the final player from the core of the 2002 record-setting Buccaneers defensive unit to retire from the game.

Sapp was selected to be enshrined in to the Hall of Fame this coming August and Lynch was among the 27 semi-finalists for the honor back in November. One day, Barber will join the list of potential Hall of Famers, though there's a chance he may not make it over the hump and into the Hall.
He's had one hell of a career as a lifelong Buccaneer, and was certainly the most consistent defensive back of his time, but I'm not completely sold on his HOF status. He was never a flashy guy, and seemed to fly under the radar at times, especially when playing behind Sapp and Brooks and next to Lynch. His lack of flash and vocal leadership could hurt him when it comes time to vote, but lets set the record straight: he's one hell of a football player and one of the best the Bucs franchise has ever seen.

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