TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – For many members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there are not only championships and statistics; there’s one moment that stands alone to represent an entire career of greatness.
For Rondé Barber, one moment defines an entire franchise, not just a career.
In January 2003, the 2002 NFL playoffs were ready to set the stage for Super Bowl XXXVII. The NFC Championship Game saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the Philadelphia Eagles, the final game in the long history of Veteran’s Stadium, which was ready to close with the opening of brand-new Lincoln Financial Field next door.
The Bucs’ previous two seasons ended with playoff losses to the Eagles. In fact, the 2001 playoffs saw the end of Tony Dungy’s time as the team’s head coach. The 2002 team was led by head coach Jon Gruden, a Tampa native with swagger, and the team followed.
But this was Philly, temperatures near freezing, the atmosphere at the “Vet” and a dubious history for the Bucs.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks recalled telling Barber in the later stages of the game that a moment was coming.
“Derrick, probably had that sense because of the way we played defense,” Barber said. “We were in a lot of ‘Cover 2’ because we had the lead. Why put yourself at risk? The two players that have to make the play are the Nickel and the Will Linebacker (Brooks on the weak side of the opponent’s offense).”
The play took place at a critical moment of the game, with just under three and a half minutes to play. The Bucs were hanging on to a 10-point lead, but the Eagles offense, led by quarterback Donovan McNabb, had momentum and the ball at the Bucs’ 10-yard line.
“One of us was going to make a play and Donovan looked like he was going to be the one,” Barber said. “Someone had to thwart him and that someone was me.”
On a pass to Antonio Freeman, McNabb did not read Barber’s break toward the route. Barber intercepted the pass cleanly and returned it 92 yards untouched for a game-sealing touchdown.
The play clinched the Bucs’ first-ever NFC title. Brooks said that he thought the play vaulted them to a victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII…before the game was ever played.
For Rondé, it was his moment that came at the expense of a friend. Barber and McNabb had the same sports agency represent them throughout their careers. The two speak quite often to this day.
Jokingly, Barber said, “[McNabb] said you better put me in your Hall of Fame speech.”
For a complete look at Barber’s career and life away from football, don’t miss “Rondé’s Road to Canton” Friday at 7:00 p.m., only on WFLA News Channel 8.