Bucs Hall of Famer Ronde Barber emerged from shadow of twin brother Tiki to make name for himself
Ronde Barber will become the fourth member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl-winning defense to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ronde Barber never doubted he’d wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The undersized cornerback’s journey included some of the most memorable plays in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history, as well as several trips to Canton in which he resisted the temptation to step foot in the building where he’ll be enshrined as part of a class of nine 2023 inductees.
Barber, 48, played much of his career in the shadow of twin brother Tiki, who garnered far more attention as a star running back for the New York Giants.
That is until Ronde turned himself into a household name with a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown that sealed the 2002 NFC championship game and propelled the once hapless Bucs to their first Super Bowl appearance.
“It took a long time to get where I am, but I truly believed I was going to get there,” Barber said, looking back on a 16-year career in which he set an NFL mark for consecutive starts by a defensive back and never missed a game because of injury.
“I’ve been (to Canton) five times. I’ve never gone through the Hall,” he added. “I was purposely waiting until I had my opportunity to go in.”
Barber becomes the fourth member from a defense that dominated the league in the late 1990s and early 2000s to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch. He struggled early, only to persevere and become every bit as important to Tampa Bay’s success as the others.
“We wouldn’t have been as great without him,” Brooks said.
“He’s the best nickel corner who’s ever played. It ain’t even close,” Sapp offered. “That only begins to tell the story.”
Barber, a self-described perfectionist, blossomed in the Tampa 2 defensive scheme Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy brought to the Bucs in the mid-1990s. He excelled outside in base formations and revolutionized the nickel role when he moved inside to cover slot receivers and disrupt opposing offenses as a run-stopper and pass rusher.
Barber especially had a knack for delivering when the Bucs seemed to need him most, fully embracing opportunities to step up and help himself, Brooks, Sapp and Lynch change the perception of a franchise once referred to as the “Yucks.”
“I wanted to be that guy,” Barber said.
“Most teams used their third-best corner in nickel. Ronde was our best, and the best to ever do what he did," Sapp noted. "Nobody else was versatile enough, durable enough to play at that level outside and inside. He wasn’t a big guy, but he wasn’t afraid of anything. He wanted perfection and prepared to do anything necessary to help us win.”
A three-time, first-team All-Pro, Barber is the only player in NFL history with at least 40 interceptions (47) and 25 sacks (28). He scored 14 non-offensive touchdowns, fourth most all time behind Devin Hester and Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson.
After appearing in just one game — and playing poorly — as a rookie, the 1997 third-round draft pick out of Virginia appeared in 240 consecutive games over the final 15 years of his career. He started the last 215, the longest-ever streak by a defensive back.
“I never wanted to see anybody else do my job,” Barber said.
“He worked hard to perfect that position. He knew what it took to earn that job,” Brooks, who had a streak of 208 consecutive starts at linebacker, said. “When we got on the field it was going to take something drastic to get us out of there.”
For all his accomplishments, including the long interception return against the Philadelphia Eagles that clinched Tampa Bay’s first trip to the Super Bowl, Barber may be most proud of his streak of consecutive games played.
He appreciates the impressive numbers he compiled, as well as winning a Super Bowl. But there’s just something about defying the odds of not missing a game in 15 years.
Especially for a guy who appeared much smaller than his listed playing size of 5-foot-10, 184 pounds.
“With perseverance and hard work, really dedication to doing things uncommon ... you can be special,” Barber said. “There was a lot that went into that, and I’m glad it’s now being appreciated.”
Barber, Sapp and Brooks also think it’s pretty cool that long after their playing careers have ended, the Tampa 2 defense lives on.
Numerous teams have adopted variations of the scheme, though without the level of success the Bucs enjoyed in their defensive heyday.
“That’s because it’s not the system, it’s the players in the system,” Brooks said. “Ronde, with his ability, allowed our defense to expand to all areas of the field. That’s hard to duplicate.”
Pittsburgh’s defense was nicknamed the “Steel Curtain” in the 1970s. Minnesota's defense was once known as the “Purple People Eaters.”
The Bucs Hall of Famers take pride that the scheme they flourished in carries the name of the city wherever it's implemented.
“We compared favorably to everybody over the years,” said Barber, who will be inducted on Aug. 5, along with DeMarcus Ware, Darrelle Revis, Joe Thomas, Zach Thomas, Joe Klecko, Chuck Howley, Don Coryell and Ken Riley.
Tiki, a six-time 1,000-yard rusher who ran for 10,449 yards and scored 67 TDs over 10 seasons with the Giants, will present Ronde to the Hall.
“Telling him was one of the highlights of my life,” said Ronde, who hopes one day Tiki will be enshrined in Canton, too. “He said, ’Now that you’re in, I’m in.'"