Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher are the defensive headliners on the slate of first-time eligible candidates for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2018.
But look a little deeper into that slate, and you’ll find yet another defender worthy of strong consideration. Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber has a resume that includes feats that few defensive backs in NFL history can match. He also has a completeness to his game that few can match.
Barber was a four-down player who made plays on both sides of the line of scrimmage, as well as the kicking game. And he made those plays for a long time.
Barber played 16 seasons with the Bucs, starting more games (232) than all but two defensive backs in NFL history (Hall-of-Famer Darrell Green and Charles Woodson) and more games at cornerback (216) than all but one corner (Green). Barber also started more consecutive games (200) than any cornerback in NFL history. He didn’t miss a game in his final 15 seasons and didn’t miss a start in his final 14 years.
The adage that the most important part of “ability” is “availability” alone stamps Barber as a deserving candidate for Canton. Cornerback is the toughest position to play in the NFL, and Barber was the ultimate survivor there.
But not only did he survive, he thrived.
In his ninth season, Barber became the first defender in NFL history to collect 20 interceptions and 20 sacks in a career. Now he is the only defender in history with at least 45 career interceptions and 25 sacks. If he wasn’t tackling quarterbacks in the pocket, he was intercepting them downfield. And he wasn’t tackling just quarterbacks.
Barber also tackled Chicago running back Matt Forte in the end zone for a safety in a 2011 game. So he was an able defender in run defense, once again making tackles on both sides of the line of scrimmage. But more than that, he was a willing run defender. With 1,028 career tackles, he’s the rare cornerback in NFL history with membership in the 1,000-tackle club.
Barber also evolved into an offensive weapon on the defensive side of the ball, scoring 14 career touchdowns. Those 14 scores covered a staggering 527 return yards. He returned eight interceptions for touchdowns, four fumbles and two blocked kicks. He also blocked two other kicks.
Barber returned two Donovan McNabb interceptions for touchdowns in the same 2006 game against the Philadelphia Eagles and propelled the Bucs to their only Super Bowl with another 92-yard interception return for a touchdown of McNabb in the 2002 NFC title game. He also returned interceptions for scores against Pro Bowlers Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper.
Barber led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2001 and broke up 24 other passes on his way to the first of his five Pro Bowls. His 47 career interceptions are a franchise record, and he was named to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 2000s.
He started at three different positions in his career – both right and left corner plus free safety in his final season. The Bucs led the NFL in both defense and pass defense with Barber at right cornerback in 2002 and also led the league in pass defense with him at left corner in 2007. Tampa Bay led the NFL in defense twice and in pass defense three times with Barber on the field.
Ironically, Ronde was assumed to be the lesser of two Barbers.
His twin, Tiki, joined him at the University of Virginia, where he became the second all-time leading rusher in school history with a record 19 100-yard games. Tiki led the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing in 1996 as a senior and became the 36th overall pick of the 1997 NFL draft by the New York Giants. He was a part-time starter as a rookie and then went on to play 10 years, posting six 1,000-yard seasons, to become the all-time leading rusher of the Giants.
Ronde redshirted in his freshman season at Virginia but decided to leave school along with his brother in 1997, skipping his senior season to turn pro. The Buccaneers selected Ronde 30 picks after his brother in the third round, but he wound up playing only one game as a rookie, spending 15 games as a healthy scratch.
Ronde started nine games in his second season, six at right cornerback and three at left, and remained a fixture on the Tampa Bay defense thereafter. He wound up going to more Pro Bowls and winning more Super Bowls than his brother.
Tackle Warren Sapp and outside linebacker Derrick Brooks both became first-ballot Hall of Famers off that 2002 Tampa Bay defense that delivered the Bucs their only Lombardi Trophy. Safety John Lynch has been a four-time Hall-of-Fame finalist off that same defense. Now Barber is eligible for the Hall of Fame – and his career deserves that same consideration.