A year ago, when I gave Ronde Barber a 50-50 shot of gaining entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a number of readers were outraged. Didn’t I know his record? Wasn’t I aware Barber had been the first cornerback to record 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in a career? What had I smoked before sending the article to my editors at Pro Football Weekly?
I had experienced something similar the year before when I assessed Brian Dawkins’ chances. His fans, like Barber’s, are incredibly loyal. Dawkins was in the same category of safety as Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, they argued. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, for sure.
Barber is similar to Dawkins — fans love him, solid leader, impressive career. But neither player is a Hall of Fame “lock.” You can’t talk about Barber the same way you would other defensive backs of his era, such as Rod Woodson or Deion Sanders. They clearly had Canton-worthy careers … Barber, eh, yeah, probably. Fans point to his statistics and accolades, but those alone do not guarantee entrance. Consider former Redskins LB Chris Hanburger, who last played in 1978. He was named to nine Pro Bowls, was one of the steadiest players of his era, and just recently got inducted. Same for Steelers LB Andy Russell, who was invited to seven Pro Bowls and is still waiting. Sometimes great players are forced to wait, and sometimes they never get in.
So, is Barber an early inductee, a Hanburger or a Russell? Here is how his résumé stacks up …
Statistics: In 2005, Barber joined the 20-20 club. At present, he has 28 career sacks and his 45 interceptions rank him fifth among active players and first in Tampa Bay franchise history. Barber has returned 12 turnovers for scores (eight interceptions, four fumbles) and his 14 career non-offensive TDs rank him behind Sanders, Devin Hester and Woodson on the all-time list.
Success: The Buccaneers had finished above .500 just twice in 21 seasons prior to selecting Barber in the third round of the 1997 NFL draft. Coach Tony Dungy’s arrival the year before sparked the franchise’s turnaround, but players like Barber helped Tampa Bay complete the next six seasons without a losing record, and following the 2002 season they claimed the franchise’s only Super Bowl title. Barber has been a part of seven playoff teams.
Accolades: From 2001-08, Barber was named to five Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams. He is also a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000s.
HOF comparison: Herb Adderley
Adderley played nine seasons in Green Bay — the first seven for Vince Lombardi — before finishing up his career in Dallas. He earned his way to five Pro Bowls (four All-Pro teams) and retired with 48 interceptions in 164 career games (he returned seven of those for touchdowns). Like Barber, Adderley was surrounded by Hall of Fame talent.
Intangibles: There are not many defensive backs who can boast having played 16 NFL seasons (and 230 NFL games). Of the 23 defensive backs in the Hall of Fame, only Darrell Green and Woodson played longer. Barber was also an integral part of Monte Kiffin’s Tampa-2 defense — for many years the standard. His association to Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and others from those outstanding defenses, also helps his candidacy; Hall of Fame voters tend to recognize great teams/units.
First-ballot candidate: Probably not
HOF probability: 60 percent
Barber will gain entrance, but not right away. Playing for 16 seasons helps, but longevity is only special if you are elite for a very long time, and he made his last Pro Bowl four seasons ago. Instead, his ties to Kiffin’s defense and the fact that he was a 20-20 pioneer will gain him recognition.
Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010). Follow him on twitter @mikebeacom.