On Thursday a packed One Buccaneer Place said goodbye to Tampa Bay's legendary cornerback Ronde Barber. After 16 season in the NFL – all in Tampa – Barber is ready to open a new chapter in his life. For fans – and even the media – it was hard to say goodbye to No. 20.
As the media assembled in the huge theater to say farewell to veteran defensive back Ronde Barber at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday afternoon, there was a somber mood that enveloped the room.
Just a week earlier it was all smiles and backpats as the announcement that legendary defensive tackle Warren Sapp was entering the team’s Ring of Honor had taken place in the same room. Thursday was different, though. Sure, there was a celebration of sorts, as the accomplishments of No. 20 were on display, but it was finally settling in that this was it for Barber.
After 16 seasons, a Lombardi Trophy, four head coaches and hundreds of faces that had filtered in and out of One Buc, the one constant was going to be no more.
Long-time employees, former teammates, owners, past and present coaches and members of Barber’s family all filled the room, with many having to stand along the sides and back walls to witness Barber’s goodbye.
Working in the media, journalists love to brag how impartial they are and how they don't play favorites. Is that the truth? No, of course not. Writers have agendas at times, get their feelings hurt and pick on players, owners and teams all the time.
Another journalistic rule is to not get too close to a player or coach that you cannot be objective in your reporting. But writers are human. We make questionable decisions at times because of our human nature. For the most part, though, we all try to do the best we can. But sometimes a player comes along and you sometimes find yourself having a hard time not rooting for. Barber was one of those players.
Barber was never a big locker room quote guy. Once a week during open locker room he might hold court for a bit or after a game, especially if there was a hot topic going on that week. But for the most part Barber was pretty quiet and the media respected it. Barber had talked enough over his illustrious 16-year career to satisfy most of the media, and he knew if he started a discussion it would become a media frenzy, and five minutes would turn into 30.
But for those covering the team, it will be hard not to walk into the locker room next season and not see Barber standing by his meticulously clean locker with that ever-present smile. In the nearly three years that I covered the Bucs I may have initiated a total of 10 conversations with Barber. But as strange as it may sound, there was a comfort seeing No. 20 – a connection to the past glory days, a feeling of watching someone special and amazement when thinking about his accomplishments.
Thursday, after the press conference and most of the interviews were over, Barber walked into the media room and sat down at the long conference table. He made a joke at first, but then thanked us for covering him over his career. Barber said people feel the way about him in part because of what we wrote about him. But in Barber's case he gave us the material, the story and the legacy. We didn't have to look for a story about Barber – he wrote the the story for us daily.
During the conversation, one of the writers asked Barber what he would miss the most. Barber’s answer typified what made him a special player.
“I am going to miss coming to work everyday,” Barber said as his eyes wandered off. “I was telling some of the TV guys, who asked, (what will you miss, playing on Sunday?), everyone misses (playing) on Sunday. That is the fun day. What made me a little bit different was coming to work on Monday. I couldn’t wait to get in the building and turn the film on. And either see what I did well or what I did wrong. After Monday you could get a chance to get on the field Wednesday and work on that. Everyday going out and trying to perfect your craft – that was fun to me. I will definitely miss that. I had as much fun last year trying to learn a new position as I ever had. So I have got to find something to fill that gap, something I could be committed to.”
After being rushed off to do a radio interview and an NFL Network spot, Barber returned to the media room an hour later one last time. Soon the Bucs' PR staff was trying to get him to his next destination and Barber reluctantly stood up. One by one he shook our hands and in the case of a number of the long time media he put his arms around them, hugging them and thanked each one.
Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer summed up the mood of all in attendance and the majority of all Bucs fans on Thursday afternoon when he introduced Barber for his retirement speech.
"When I think back to some of my greatest memories in Buccaneers history, I think one stands out above all,” an emotional Glazer said. “I think of that freezing night in Philadelphia and No. 20 with his arm in the air running 92 yards, taking us to the Super Bowl.
“Words can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for this organization and the community. He’ll be sorely missed on the field but will always be a part of the Buccaneer family.”
Later, Barber had the final fitting words to end an incredible 16-year run.
“I came up here not really knowing what to say,” Barber said as his words became barely a whisper. “But I think the best way to end it is by saying I had fun. I loved coming to work every day, even last year when [head coach Greg Schiano] beat us up. I love football. I’ve always loved football. But football is just what I did, it’s not who I am and I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to do what’s next.
“You turn enough chapters in one book and you finally get to the end, you shut it, put it in your bookshelf, pick up another book. That’s what I’m willing to do right now.”
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