Commentary | Ronde Barber deserves swift induction into Pro Football Hall of Fame

Bucs great easy to miss, but career speaks for itself

adell@bradenton.comMay 12, 2013 

Buccaneers Vikings Football

Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Ronde Barber (20) enjoys the moment during the second half of an NFL football game as the Buccaneers went on to beat the Minnesota Vikings Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

JIM MONE — ASSOCIATED PRESS

TAMPA

Off the field, Ronde Barber was easy to miss. He wasn't big, he didn't boast about his accomplishments, and his 40-yard dash times didn't warrant a second glance.

In the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' crowded locker room after a game, if you didn't know Barber you'd miss him, unless you looked at the name plate above his stall.

But this we know about Barber, whose 16-year NFL career officially came to an end last week: He was an anonymous giant.

The description, like his, career defies logic.

But it also defines the 38-year-old.

He did what so many said he couldn't do and never missed a game because of injury during his career.

Now as the clock begins to tick on his five-year wait to be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, you hope he will be judged on what he did instead of what he could not do.

At 5-foot-10, 184 pounds, Barber doesn't seem to care. He is more concerned about being respected by his peers.

"I was never the biggest, never the fastest, but I figured out how to be tough and preserve, and that got me through," Barber said. "The guys I played against and competed against me, I think they knew I was a tough guy. Some of them didn't like me for it, but they respected me for it. When it's all said and done, that's what I'd like to be known as."

Hall-of-fame voters tend to be a fickle lot who often lack common sense.

The College Football Hall of Fame voters made Manatee High's Tommie Frazier wait 17 years. NFL voters still have Henry Lawrence way in the back of the room, though you could make a good case for him.

NFL voters apparently are not impressed by defensive backs. There are only 23 of them in the hall, and only three defensive backs (all cornerbacks) who ended their careers at the turn of the century have been elected (Deion Sanders, Darrell Green and Rod Woodson). The only defensive back who ended his career in the '90s and made it is Ronnie Lott.

If you play on the same unit as teammates who made the hall of fame it can hurt, which is partly the case of Lawrence, the Manatee High product who won three Super Bowls as an Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders offensive lineman.

Tough guys appear to have the edge over finesse speedsters like Sanders, a first-ballot choice.

But that's an even bigger reason voters should elect Barber.

He was Mr. Tough Guy personified.

Barber finished his career with 1,234 tackles. Sanders had 492 in 14 years.

This is not to denigrate Sanders, who was an excellent punt returner and played some receiver. But the comparisons are certainly intriguing with a consensus opinion that Barber will not be a first-ballot choice.

Barber should not have to wait very long; or, as LeBron James might say, not four, not five, not six years.

Sanders was a guy who admitted he avoided tackles for what he called "business decisions."

Barber threw his body into the mix because he said it was the right thing to do.

Up until the day he announced his retirement last week, Barber never flaunted himself.

"I did a lot of good things in 16 years, but it wasn't because of me. It was the other people around here who made me into the player that I am," Barber said. "There is some self will and some talent involved on my part, but you need the help of others. What they are is part of what I am. This is the only place I played and only place I wanted to play."

Barber played with Warren Sapp, who recently was selected for the hall of fame, and Derrick Brooks and John Lynch. You hope that won't hurt his chances.

Barber's list of accomplishments is long, but one that stands out is that he is the only player in NFL history with more than 40 interceptions and 25 sacks (47 and 28). He is a five-time All-Pro, three times a first-team choice. He scored 15 non-offensive touchdowns, fourth best in NFL history behind Sanders, Woodson and Devin Hester.

Barber won't talk about his hall of fame chances, but what he did say last week epitomizes his career: "I would like for them to say 'that's the toughest dude I ever saw play.'"

Barber grew up in a single-parent home, and his mother, Geraldine, was the rock for Ronde and twin brother Tiki, the former New York Giants running back.

She ingrained toughness inside the twins, no more so than when she drove 120 miles to watch them play in college at Virginia four days after undergoing surgery for a double mastectomy.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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