When Bucs longtime leader Ronde Barber retired last Thursday, it created a void not just within the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization, but around the National Football League.
Barber was among the last of a dying breed of ‘lunch-pail’ players — blue-collar guys who came to work every day with a ‘do or die’ mentality.
“I remember saying this years ago, second or third year in the league, ‘The one thing that drives me is I don’t want to fail at this. This isn’t given to me,'” Barber recalled after his retirement ceremony Thursday.
“You can see some of the opposite of that now with the guys, where they know they’re good. It’s a different mentality.”
Barber played with a shattered thumb held together by eight pins and a plate. The surgery was on a Monday. He was back practicing Wednesday. There was no other choice. The Bucs were playing Green Bay that week.
That spectacular 92-yard interception return against the Philadelphia Eagles that propelled the Bucs to its Super Bowl? He did it with a torn MCL in his knee.
He remembers former defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin telling him and his teammates, “I’m gonna tolerate you until I can replace you.” That stuck with him.
“I never wanted to see somebody else do what I knew I could do better. That was always my motivation to play through injury. And I loved my job.”
But at 38 and now retired, Ronde Barber isn’t today’s NFL player and his attitude hasn’t rubbed off on younger players who have enjoyed football-related fame at a much younger age than he did.
“The guy has changed, definitely. The player has evolved a little bit over the years. The game, it starts early for these guys.”
“They’re praised and recruited and labeled ‘can’t miss’ at 15-16 years old. You know about guys in high school now. That’s just insane to me.”
By the time they arrive in the league, there isn’t that same burning desire to succeed.
“They get here and they don’t have that fear of failure.”
Passing the Torch
When Warren Sapp left the Bucs in 2003 and Derrick Brooks was released in 2009, Barber immediately assumed the role as ‘leader’ of the Buccaneer defense. He’s ready to pass the torch on to a new leader.
“I think it’s very clearly Gerald McCoy. He’s the guy that needs to assume that leadership role, not only because he’s one of the best players on the team, but because he has the personality to handle it,” Barber said.
“Gerald had a heck of a year last year. Not a lot of people gave him credit for the year that he had, but the people that played against him [know].”
“When you talk to [John] Lynch, because he’s doing a lot of games, he can tell because he talks to the other coaches it’s, ‘What is it with this team that you know you have to stop?’ And it’s without fail, ‘That friggin’ 93…is hell to deal with.”
On offense, Barber said the clear leaders are Josh Freeman because of his position as a quarterback and Vincent Jackson because of his talent, the way younger players look up to him, and his work ethic.
But not everyone’s cut out to lead. Barber even admitted he was uncomfortable taking over in 2009.
“You can’t just point a guy out and say, ‘He’s got to be it.'”