Bucs’ Ronde Barber eyes 200th career game

Ronde Barber can’t imagine anyone challenging – let alone

breaking – Brett Favre’s NFL ironman record.

Tampa Bay’s five-time Pro Bowl cornerback will play in his 200th

career game Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. He’s painfully

aware of the toll that suiting up every week takes on the body and

says it’s not realistic to expect there will ever be another run

like Favre’s.

The Minnesota Vikings quarterback has started a record 291

consecutive games and hopes to play this weekend despite two

fractures in his left ankle.

The 35-year-old Barber is third among active players on the

consecutive starts list with 173 – a streak that began Nov. 21,

1999. Peyton Manning is second with 198.

”There’s nobody’s who’s going to get anywhere near to that,”

said Barber, who’s in his 14th season and flatly rejects the notion

of playing long enough to have a shot at the mark himself. ”What

would that be? Four more seasons? Five more? No, seven more

seasons. No way.”

The twin brother of former New York Giants running back Tiki

Barber, who retired in 2006 after 10 seasons, smiled.

At 35, Barber is the eldest member of Tampa Bay’s roster and the

only player remaining from the 2002 team that won the franchise’s

only Super Bowl title. He’s also a year older than close friend and

Bucs coach Raheem Morris.

He jokes that the Bucs have been trying to replace him ever

since a disastrous pro debut on Sept. 28, 1997. Pressed into duty

that day because of injury, Barber gave up two long touchdown

passes to the Cardinals’ Rob Moore.

The Bucs won 19-18, but it would be the only regular season game

the third round draft pick would appear in as a rookie.

”It was shaky for a good two, three years,” Barber said.

”There’s a lot of people in this building who didn’t believe in me

after that.”

The three-time All-Pro selection chuckles at memory now. He’s

gone on to become the club’s career interceptions leader with 39

and has scored 11 regular season touchdowns on interception and

fumbles returns, plus two more on returns of deflected and blocked

punts.

His 25 career sacks are most in NFL history by a cornerback, and

he’s the only player in league history to notch that many sacks,

along with at least 35 interceptions.

Since the NFL-AFL merger, he and Aeneas Williams are the only

defensive backs who’ve started every game their teams for 10

consecutive seasons.

”I’ve been fortunate. I’ve got a team that still likes me. I’ve

got a coach that loves me. I’ve had a lot a things go my way. Put

it that way,” Barber said. ”I’ve been productive for a lot of

consecutive years. Really that’s the only way you can do it.”

The 5-foot-10, 184-pound cornerback has the played through the

usual bumps and bruises and sore muscles and body parts that

players deal with on a weekly basis.

He also managed to stay on the field despite the two injuries –

a broken tumb vs. Green Bay and a torn knee ligament against

Detroit – he says came closest to ever keeping him out of a game.

Both were during the Super Bowl season.

But toughness is just one of the reasons he’s on the verge of

appearing in his 199th consecutive game. He said he simply loves

the game.

”Not everybody likes it as much as I do. … I love all these

(cornerbacks) behind me, but I don’t want to watch them do my

job,” Barber said, adding that he, Favre and other players with

such streaks aren’t consumed by the numbers.

”He probably didn’t wake up Monday morning saying, `I’ve got to

get to 292.’ He’s probably saying, `I’ve got to get to next

week,”’ Barber added. ”I think few people have that mentality.

But those who do end up with this type of longevity.”

Morris joined the Buccaneers as a defensive quality control

coach in 2002. He called Barber a consummate pro and said he uses

him as example for young players who are part of the youth movement

Tampa Bay launched after the 2008 season.

A number of veterans such as Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn and

Ike Hilliard were released when Morris replaced Jon Gruden as

coach, however Barber stayed and adapted to a new defensive system

installed under the new regime.

”He won’t allow you to put him on the injury report unless it’s

going to be something that keeps him out (of practice) for an

extended amount of time,” Morris said, lauding the cornerback’s

work ethic on and off the field.

”A lot of times when I’m talking to my young guys, I tell them

if they want to play in this league for a long time, look at a guy

like Ronde Barber. When he goes home he eats right, he works out.

He does the right thing in the offseason. He’s always thinking

about his body, and taking care of his body.”

Barber reported to camp this year with the lowest body fat level

– 3.7 percent – on the team and already has two interceptions after

going without one last season for the first time since he was a

rookie.

He relishes the challenge of helping the Bucs climb back among

the league’s elite after falling on hard times in recent years.

”Tiki said it best. You get into the NFL for three reasons. One

is to make a name for yourself. Two is to stick around long enough

to make a little money, and three is to win a championship,”

Barber said. ”I’ve done all three of those. But there’s no reason

I can’t start that list all over again.”