Ronde Barber arrived in Tampa in 1997, just as the Buccaneers were beginning a long-awaited franchise revival under new ownership and a new head coach. Tony Dungy’s 1997 Buccaneers went 10-6 and won a Wild Card game in ’97, breaking a 14-year stretch of losing campaigns.
Barber didn’t play a lot that year, until the very end, but in the ensuing seasons he was a big part of taking the team from that 1997 starting point to the NFL’s pinnacle. He helped create a culture of winning at (the old) One Buccaneer Place, and shared in reaping the rewards. It was possible to create that culture, Barber said last week after he finally called his career to a close, because everyone knew the roster was talented enough to win, and win big.
As he walks away after a remarkable 16-year-run, Barber does it knowing that he could be leaving just as another Buccaneer renaissance is right around the bend. In fact, he joked at his retirement press conference that he wouldn’t be thrilled to see the team win another Lombardi Trophy in the season he could have chosen to play.
The Bucs are in a new building now, but Barber senses the same thing building inside One Buc Place that he experienced as a rookie.
“Our great teams in the late 1990s and the early part of this century, there was an imminent feel about success,” he said. “It was just a matter of time before we won and that was because of the players. There’s no reason that this group of guys that we have now can’t get that same imminent feeling back and make a run. One of the things that Jon Gruden always used to say was, ‘Just give me a ticket to the dance and we’ll go from there.’ They should be well on their way to purchasing a ticket.”
Barber is almost certainly headed towards a job in the media as the next stage in his professional life. He is expected to do well in part because he’s always been a straight-shooter, eschewing clichés, hyperbole and canned answers. Barber may or may not be right about the current talent level at One Buccaneer Place, but he isn’t trying to stretch the truth as he sees it. He clearly believes that the 2013 Bucs have what it takes to win, including the right leadership under Head Coach Greg Schiano.
“I’ve had a feeling this team is getting there,” said Barber. “We certainly have the players, we certainly have the coach. He has the right mental attitude to deal with players. The vision is good. It’s strong, it’s consistent. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be successful, and I expect them to.”
Barber couldn’t help but say “we” in most of his references to the team, right up until that last phrase referring to the seasons ahead, and of course no one would ever begrudge him that choice. He’s a Buccaneer for life, having cemented his place in team history by virtue of showing up at just the right time and then being instrumental in fulfilling the potential of that time. Those Bucs had in the previous few years added the likes of Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Donnie Abraham, Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn…and then they got Ronde Barber. That core took off in Dungy’s second year at the helm, after an inaugural season largely aimed at chasing the organizational culture and philosophy.
Before he capped his career, Barber saw the current Bucs add the likes of Gerald McCoy, Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin, Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis. Now in its second year under a new head coach, after a season largely aimed at chasing the organizational culture, that team may be poised for the same type of run it began in 1997. Though he’ll be watching from afar, Barber envisions just that sort of near future for the Buccaneers.