- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Because of the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, there are a lot of bridges in this area.
A new one opened Thursday. This one doesn’t span water. Instead, it covers the history of an NFL franchise.
It came with Barber flanked by Greg Schiano and Tony Dungy on one side and Jerry Angelo and Mark Dominik on the other. The present, the past and the future -- and everything else in between -- all mixed perfectly into one snapshot.
No one but Barber could bridge all of the gaps that are represented in that photo.
"Over the last 16 years, we’ve seen a lot of changes," Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer said. "We’ve seen a new stadium go up. The uniforms have changed. Coaches, we’ve seen different players come and go. We’ve seen change upon change upon change. But over those years, there has been one constant here in Tampa. A true professional in every sense. What I consider the definition of greatness on and off the field. When we talk about Buccaneer Men, I say if you could put a picture on the wall and say, 'True Buccaneer Man,' it would be Ronde Barber."
Actually, the photo represented more than the 16 years Barber played defensive back for the Buccaneers. It represented the entire history of the franchise. It dates back to 1976 and extends way into the future.
Let’s start with the past. Angelo worked in the personnel department back in the days of Ray Perkins, Richard Williamson and Sam Wyche when the Bucs were piling up double-digit losses most years, wearing those Creamsicle uniforms and trying for the better part of their first two decades to grow out of the expansion phase. Dungy is the coach who came in and finally got the team on the right track.
One year into Dungy’s tenure, he, Angelo and former general manager Rich McKay drafted Barber in the third round out of the University of Virginia.
The rest is history that you already know, so we’ll keep it short. Barber became a perfect fit in the Tampa 2 defense. Along with Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch, Barber was a central figure in a defense that turned the fortunes of the franchise.
Angelo left in 2000 to become general manager of the Chicago Bears. Dungy was fired after the 2001 season because his offense didn’t produce nearly as well as his defense.
Barber just kept on playing at a high level.
Jon Gruden came in and won a Super Bowl in his first season, with Barber providing the signature moment of his career (and of franchise history) with an interception return for a touchdown against Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game.
Gruden and the Bucs bobbed up and down for the next six seasons. After Gruden was fired and Raheem Morris was hired, Barber just kept on playing at a high level.
When Morris was fired after three rocky seasons, Barber just kept on playing at a high level.
That brings us to Schiano and Dominik. Schiano is getting ready to enter his second season as coach of the Buccaneers and Dominik is entering his fifth season as general manager.
They’re also the coach and general manager who made it clear they wanted Barber back for a 17th season. But Barber, 38, said he woke up one morning about a month ago and decided it wasn’t worth it to go through another offseason program and training camp.
"I love football, but football is not who I am," Barber said. "I’m ready to move on, ready to do what’s next."
Barber said the next likely step will be a career in broadcasting. But he has no plans to leave Tampa.
"I’m not going anywhere," Barber said. "I’ve got nowhere else to go."
Barber’s influence still will be felt in Tampa Bay’s young locker room by his former teammates.
That brings us to the future of this franchise -- and the past. As Barber talked about the teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s, he talked about how there was an "imminent feeling of success."
Barber said he walks away with a similar feeling about the current Buccaneers. Maybe the Bucs will go out and do something special this year.
Whatever happens, Barber will be a part of it in some way.
He still will be the bridge that spans every generation of the team’s history.