Ronde Barber Takes Over as NFL's Iron Man

By ROY CUMMINGS | The Tampa Tribune

At some point during what will be a day of remembrance Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, amid the honoring of lives and legends lost, the Buccaneers will give a brief nod to a legend that lives on.

His name is Ronde Barber, and you get the feeling from talking with him that he would just as soon the Bucs ignored him. That won't happen, though.

Shortly after the season-opener against the Detroit Lions kicks off, Barber will trot out to his right or slot cornerback spot for the 184th consecutive start of his career, making him the NFL's new Iron Man.

Barber assumes the title from Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, whose string of 204 consecutive starts will end because of a neck injury. Despite his reticence, Barber truly is proud of the streak.

"Another tick,'' he said, referring to the myriad of accomplishments that continue to build in what many believe will be a Hall of Fame-worthy resume.

Certainly, he has Hall of Fame numbers. Barber begins his 15th season with 26 sacks, the most by a cornerback in NFL history, and 40 interceptions. He is the only player in NFL history with that many sacks and picks.

He also has 11 career touchdowns off fumble or interception returns, fourth all time, five Pro Bowl appearances, a Super Bowl ring and, now, the Iron Man streak.

Considering what the Bucs have asked of Barber, particularly as a slot corner, the 183-game streak may be the most impressive achievement.

"It really is incredible because we ask our corners to tackle a lot,'' general manager Mark Dominik said. "And with Ronde, we ask him to come into the slot and attack the quarterback and running backs in the backfield.

"That means he's regularly throwing his (5-foot-10, 184-pound) body against 245-pound guys, and yet he still stays out there and he still holds up and still plays at a very high level.''

A certain amount of luck factors into a streak such as this. And while no one denies Barber has been lucky to avoid the kind of injury that would have ended his streak, his character often kept it alive.

"The way he prepares himself, the way he takes care of his body, Ronde Barber has certainly been on very few injury reports, and that's by his choice,'' coach Raheem Morris said.

"He forces his will on his body, and he forces his will on his opponents. …I've watched him finish the season with a torn knee ligament. I've watched him play through broken thumbs. He's certainly earned his Iron Man status.''

Barber has been the team's Iron Man for years. As a testament to his fortitude and endurance, a picture of him hangs in the Bucs' training room, where Barber "never goes,'' according to Morris.

"He's setting the example for all our young guys,'' Morris added. "It's the first thing (trainer) Todd (Toriscelli) says to them when they go in there: 'Ronde will practice with that.' The message hits home.''

Sooner or later, the magnitude of the NFL's Iron Man streak will hit home, as well. For now, though, Barber has no interest in accepting plaudits for the extraordinary.

"I'll let you pat me on the back," Barber said.

Not a problem.

[TBO]

MAXX Client Newsadmin