Barber’s instincts took him to Hall of Fame

by Gary Shelton on February 11, 2023

in general

Saturday, 4 a.m.

It wasn't just that Ronde Barber loved football. It was that the football loved him.

There was an attraction there, an almost magnetic force at work, when Barber played football. If the ball hit the ground, if it ticked off the hands of a receiver, then it always seemed to go straight to Barber. He had these incredible instincts, this knack for making a turnaround play that was a highlight on those great Bucs' defensive teams.

He was smart, and he was tough, and he was a better cover corner than you remember. He intercepted 47 passes, and he recovered 12 fumbles, and he scored 14 touchdowns (terrific for a cornerback) and he had 28 sacks. He could tackle. He could cover.

Today, Barber is a Hall of Famer and, frankly, it's about time.

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After six years of being a semifinalist, and three being a finalist, Barber entered immortality on Thursday. He becomes the fourth member of that defense -- along with Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch -- to get a gold jacket.

And, yeah, if you're wondering, he deserves it.

No one ever played the nickel corner the way Barber did. He wasn't asked to play in the role of the traditional, cover-the-guy-all-over-the-field roles. He was an athlete, a baller.

Remember the Super Bowl following the 2002 season? The Raiders privately thought they could take advantage of the Bucs' cornerbacks with Rich Gannon throwing to Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. It didn't happen. The Bucs intercepted five passes and returned three for scores.

Barber made the most memorable play in the history of the Bucs -- his 92-yard interception return of a Donovan McNabb pass that sealed the NFC title. Even now, you can hear former general manager Rich McKay, yelling from the press box "run, Ronde, run. Don't ever stop running."

He was a bright guy, a guy you absolutely had to talk to after a Bucs' game. He was honest, and insightful, and quotable.

But that's not why he's in the Hall. He made the Pro Bowl five times. He was first team all-Pro three times.And inside was this fire, this competitiveness that burned. He knew his critics rapped him for not playing man all over the field all of the time. But in his quiet way, Barber believed he was among the best at his position. And he was.

For years, I wondered if Barber would crack the final vote. There were electors who considered his combined sack-interception totals as a gimmicky kind of stat. I thought it was a testament to his versatility.

Again, there were those incredible instinct plays. If someone was going to make the greatest play in the history of the franchise, didn't it figure it was Ronde?

In some ways, he's still running down the sideline at the Vet, headed toward greatness.

In some ways, he's still running.

Don't ever stop.

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