Barber Cuts Through Silence to Nirvana

Nearly nine years have passed since Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber returned an interception 92 yards for a touchdown in the freezing cold at Veterans Stadium to clinch a win in the NFC Championship Game over the Eagles.

But rarely a week goes by without Barber being asked about that signature play, he says.

"It comes up every four or five days, especially if I'm with somebody I don't know, " Barber said.

"I love hearing stories about what people were doing at the time."

Stunned silence

What's still interesting nearly a decade later is that the loudest play in Bucs history was made in stunned silence.

The interception, with 3 minutes, 12 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of what became a 27-10 win, sent the Bucs to their first (and so far only) Super Bowl, in which they defeated the Raiders 48-21.

As Barber ran untouched toward the end zone, a hush fell over the stadium. It was somehow appropriate because the play also quieted concerns about whether the Bucs could win in the cold, could beat the Eagles in a postseason game and could emerge triumphant from the hostile confines of the Vet, which had become the Bucs' house of horrors.

Philadelphia had won the previous four meetings between the teams, including knocking Tampa Bay out of the playoffs in 2000 and 2001, the latter prompting the dismissal of coach Tony Dungy.

In both games, the Bucs were no match for the cold, the Eagles or Philadelphia's rabid crowd.

Barber silenced it all.

"You couldn't hear a sound," then- Bucs safety John Lynch said. "The stadium noise stopped. There was that sweet silence. There was nothing to say."

Monster game

What time has dulled is that Barber, who is entering his 15th season and is the only remaining active player from that team, had a monster game all around. He also had three tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and four passes defensed .

"That's like hitting for the cycle a couple times," Barber said. "The sack/fumble, a bunch of open-field tackles, beating blocks, and I factored in every statistical category except a fumble recovery.

"The interception gets earmarked, and rightfully so, because it was such a big play. But the entirety of the game is what I will always remember."

The play

The Bucs led 20-10 when quarterback Donovan McNabb drove the Eagles from their 18-yard line to a first and goal at the Tampa Bay 10 .

With the Eagles in their two-minute offense, Barber was playing the slot receiver, where he always has been most dangerous as a pass rusher and defender. Before the snap, he walked up to the line of scrimmage in a blitz position before peeling back into coverage.

"I was just trying to bait (McNabb) a little bit," Barber said. "It's best to show blitz and to blitz in hurry-up situations when you can tell when the snap count is going to be. In that situation, you just move around, you don't want to give them a static look.

"Over the years, I kind of got a feel for it. (McNabb) fell for it. I don't know why. Maybe it was because he just had a great play and thought I was going to blitz. But either way, he believed I was coming and threw it right to me."

The aftermath

Barber knew immediately that his touchdown could lead to a Super Bowl championship.

"We thought the best team in football was the Philadelphia Eagles," he said.

As he reached the end zone, Barber held the football in his right hand and pointed to the name on the back on his jersey with his left, a gesture he has repeated many times in his career.

"I had never done it before that touchdown," Barber said. "I did it against San Francisco the week before (after scoring), but (the touchdown) got called back because (then- Bucs defensive end) Simeon (Rice) had a penalty. The first time on film was that Philly game."

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[St. Petersburg Times /]

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