Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs great Ronde Barber on retirement: 'It was time'
Though he waited until Thursday to make it official, Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber knew as far back as December that the 2012 season would probably be his last as an NFL player.
Interestingly, the first person to learn that the end of Barber's record-setting 16-year career was on the horizon was someone Barber had been covering since the beginning.
“I finished the last game of the season at Atlanta last year - a huge win for us – and I walked up to (Falcons 16-year veteran tight end) Tony Gonzalez and I said, 'Are you done man?'” Barber recalled.
“He said, 'Yeah, I think I'm done.' Then he goes out and makes a playoff run and wins a playoff game and now he wants to come back. But at that time, I knew I was probably done, too.
“People ask me, 'Don't you want a farewell tour? Don't you want to make a run in the playoffs?' Not really. I don't need that. I don't. Football has been good. It's been very good to me.''
Barber was pretty good for football, especially Buccaneer football. He left the game as one of the true icons from the franchise's only Super Bowl champion and as the keeper of some of the game's most notable records.
A five-time Pro Bowler and five-time All Pro selection, Barber virtually defined the slot corner position from which he became the only player in league history to record at least 40 interceptions (47) and 20 sacks (28).
He also leaves holding the NFL record for most consecutive starts by a cornerback (215) and a share of the NFL record for the most Defensive Player of the Week honors (nine).
As he contemplated his future, though, numbers like those became lost on Barber, who admitted that he became largely fixated in recent months on just one number, that being his age, 38.
“I'm old,'' Barber said with a laugh. “When I thought about what it would take to get this body ready to take another pounding for a 17th year … I decided it just wasn't worth it.
“It had nothing to do with (general manager Mark Dominik and coach Greg Schiano) or the guys they signed (in free agency) or the moves they made. That's a necessity for this organization and I respect that.''
The Bucs signed two-time Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson early in free agency, a move that all but assured Barber of a backup role a year after he moved from cornerback to safety.
Barber said his decision retire would have been “harder'' to make and might have even been “different'' had he been assured of a starter's job in 2013 but that he is “content'' and “comfortable'' with his choice.
“It's time,'' Barber said as his voice cracked and he fought back tears. “I'm ready to be home. I don't need it like that anymore. The game is passed and I'm OK with that.''
Barber said he ultimately came to that conclusion about a month ago but kept the decision private because he didn't want his retirement to interfere with the business of the only team he ever played for.
“There were a lot of things that I didn't want to get in the way of,'' Barber said. “Free agency, the draft, Warren (Sapp's) Ring of Honor announcement was coming down the line. I didn't want to steal from any of that.
“I mean, (my retirement) was getting a lot of attention but I just didn't want to steal the story. That's why I didn't go to (Sapp's Ring of Honor announcement) It would have been an unintended side story and I didn't want that. That was his deal. I knew my day was going to come later.''
Its arrival marked the end of what was easily the greatest era in franchise history, Barber being the last player link to the Bucs Super Bowl XXXVII victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer described the day as “bittersweet'' and Barber as a “true professional in every, sense of the word,'' adding that he embodies the ideal of the “Buccaneer Man.''
“He's a once in a lifetime player,'' Glazer said. “There are fans throughout this country who, year after year, season after season, never witness what we have had the privilege of witnessing here week after week.''
What Bucs fans have been witnessing, Barber said, is a player driven not just by pride but by a desire to prove he could excel at a game that many thought he wasn't cut out for.
“I was never the biggest guy, I was never the fastest guy, but I figured if I could be tough and preserve I'd be all right and that's what got me through,'' Barber said.
Fear played a factor, too. Barber said the fear of losing the job that allowed him to provide for his wife and two daughters kept him going at times when others might have quit.
“The best story I can tell you about that was (from) the Super Bowl year,'' Barber said. “We were (getting ready to play) Green Bay (and I had broken my thumb the week before) and they look at the (X-rays) and it's shattered.
“Doc says 'That's four weeks, look at all the damage in there.' I look at him and I say, 'We'll have the surgery on Monday because I'm practicing Wednesday,' and so they put eight pins in there, put a soft cast on it and I went out and practiced on Wednesday and played on Sunday.
“I can't say it enough. I never wanted to see someone else do what I knew I could do better. That was always my motivation. I just loved my job. I really did.''