17 Years Ago, Rondé Barber Changed the World for Bucs Fans

Luke Easterling

I was born at St. Joseph's, in the shadow of the "Big Sombrero," with creamsicle blood running through my veins.

That made for a challenging childhood when it came to gridiron fandom. While my friends were decked out in their front-running Cowboys/Steelers/49ers/Packers/Broncos jerseys, I played pick-up games dreaming I was Jimmie Giles or James Wilder. They celebrated Super Bowls; I hoped for a couple of shocking upset wins against NFL blue-bloods.

That started to change in 1997, when the seeds that had been planted in the previous few years started to blossom: The drafting of Hall of Famers, the hiring of another one as head coach. The Bucs, no longer donned in that lovable-loser orange, but now wearing their Red & Pewter with a newfound pride, got out to a 5-0 start and won a playoff game at home that year.

But it wasn't until January 19th, 2003, that every kid like me got to have that moment. That moment when we knew that our team would be champions.

It was should-be Hall of Famer Rondé Barber who gave us that moment, when he raced what seemed like a million yards down the sideline to shut down Veterans Stadium and send the Bucs to the Super Bowl for the first time ever. 

Barber had been a thorn in the Eagles' side all game long, wreaking havoc as both a cover man and a blitzing terror from his slot corner spot. He forced a key fumble earlier in the game, and with the Bucs clinging to a 10-point lead in the final minutes, he plunged a dagger into the hearts of the Philly faithful by faking a blitz, and snatching a Donovan McNabb pass out of the air on his way to the end zone.

See, the Bucs had never won a game in temperatures as cold as they were that day. That had been bounced from the playoffs multiple times by the Eagles in previous seasons, a pattern that sealed the fate of Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy just one year prior. Jon Gruden's offense gave the Bucs the jolt they needed on that side of the ball, but it was Dungy's defense, still helmed by longtime coordinator Monte Kiffin, that played one of the most dominant seasons in NFL history.

That was evident in Tampa Bay's 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, as the Bucs' vaunted defense outscored the league's No. 1 offense, returning three of their five interceptions of league MVP Rich Gannon for touchdowns.

But that result felt like a foregone conclusion while Barber was coasting down the green concrete at the Vet on this day 17 years ago. With that kelly green monkey off their back, nobody was going to keep them from a championship.

For me, and every other kid out there who endured a "Yuckaneers" childhood, it was the best moment of our sports-fan lives.

And it never gets old.

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Luke Easterling