Last week Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber, 38, retired after starting 215 straight games in the defensive backfield, a record for consecutive starts by an NFL defensive back. He played right corner, left corner, slot corner and free safety.
Barber spoke with Peter King of Sports Illustrated about his career and retirement.
“It was time. It was right for me, it was right for them. It had to be done. You never really want to retire,” Barber said. “I kind of needed to. If I stayed the year, I’d have had to change my role, and that didn’t resonate with me.
“I always strived to be the most consistent player I could be. To be like [Yastrzemski] is what I strived for. A good year every year, and then maybe one meteoric year. I always wanted my teammates to be able to rely on me, and I knew one way to do that was to be out there every week playing at a high level.
“I think I was smart in how I hit people. I absorbed tackles. I wasn’t like a missile out there. I absorbed the tackles, kept my head out of there, wrapped up the ballcarrier, then just got ‘em on the ground. I was a smart player. I didn’t dive at guys very often. I didn’t hang around piles; that’s where a lot of guys get hurt, just hanging around piles and somebody caves in your knee. Some of it is good fortune. The only thing I couldn’t play through was a broken forearm, but that came in the last game of a season, so I was ready the next year.
“I think the play I will always remember came in Philadelphia [in the 2002 NFC Championship Game]. That’s the year we went to the Super Bowl. But it was the fourth quarter, and we’d been showing blitz a lot that day. I had a sack earlier in the game. So I came into a gap when Donovan was getting ready to get the snap. He saw me, and the ball got snapped, then I was back [into coverage]. I thought he’d throw hot to Antonio Freeman, and quick, that’s what he did. I saw him throw, I cut in front of Freeman and just said to myself, ‘Don’t drop it!’ And then, all that space in front of me [92 yards), and I scored. Just surreal. Two weeks later, we’re in the Super Bowl. My wife still cries when she sees that play. And I saw Donovan’s mom after the game. I had three touchdowns against him over the years, and she said to me, ‘Why do you keep doing this to my boy?’
“I played a lot of great players. The receiver position today … so hard to match up now. Megatron [Calvin Johnson] was impossible to cover. Randy Moss in his prime: nothing you can do. But to me, Steve Smith was the toughest guy I faced. When I played him, he was just like me. He chose to outwork everyone else out there every day. That was me.
“I’ll miss Sunday. I’ll miss walking into the locker room, taking off my suit and tie and my shirt and getting dressed to play. I’ll miss walking out with the guys. The feeling’s indescribable as you get ready to take the field. It’s hard to measure, hard to describe. It’s the greatest team sport, and so much of what you do and how well you do it depends on the other guys in there. I like that. I’ll really miss that.”