ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --One of the longest-tenured players in the NFL hung up his cleats Wednesday.
A career Tampa Bay Buccaneer, Ronde Barber said goodbye to the game after 16 seasons.
"Ronde was a great football player," Peyton Manning said Thursday. "He played such an integral role in that famous Tampa defense. He was a great tackling corner, which I always thought was a great quality for a corner. Not only could he cover, but he was a great tackler. He was a physical corner that played outside but also was able to play inside quite a bit in the nickel, having to tackle running backs a lot between the hashes. He was a physical player and always a smart player. Ronde had a great understanding of what the offense was trying to do. He was great at disguising blitzes and his coverages. He had really good hands – if the ball got around him, you always saw him catching a lot of tipped balls, creating turnovers, stripping the ball. I remember playing against him and also hearing a lot about the way he approached the game from Coach (Tony) Dungy when he came over to Indianapolis. He took me inside the way Ronde approached the game, which I had great appreciation for. He took a lot of pride in studying and being on top of the cerebral aspects of football, and I admired that."
Before he missed the 2011 season, Manning paced the league with 208 consecutive regular-season starts.
Then Barber took the mantle.
When Barber retired Wednesday, he did so after a stretch of 215 consecutive starts -- tied for the sixth-longest such streak in NFL history.
"He's been a very dependable player throughout his career," Manning said. "Players have been able to count on him. Coaches have been able to count on him – 'Hey, No. 20 is going to be there every single Sunday for us.' It allows coaches and players so much more flexibility because it was just a given that No. 20 was going to be playing. They didn't have to find a replacement for him or get a backup player repetitions because they knew Barber was going to be there. It shows how much pride he took in taking care of his body, keeping himself in great shape every offseason and keeping himself healthy during the season by doing the little things. It says a lot about the pride he took in being there for his teammates."
Manning and Barber got to know each other quite well during their careers. Barber was a third-round pick in the 1997 NFL Draft; Manning was the No. 1 overall selection a year later.
Though their teams met only three times -- including Week 13 last season -- the two players squared off as all-stars in four Pro Bowls between 2004-08. For the record, Manning was 3-0 against Barber during the regular season.
Their 2003 matchup was one of the most memorable in league history, when Barber intercepted Manning and returned it for a touchdown to give Tampa Bay a 35-14 lead with a little more than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter on Monday Night Football. But Manning rallied the Colts to a 38-35 overtime victory in one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.
"I've known Ronde for quite some time," Manning said. "Playing in some Pro Bowls, even though he was in the NFC, I got to spend some time with him during that week. I always enjoyed his company. He's been a great football player and a great NFL ambassador at the same time."
Barber was tied with Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez as the longest-tenured position player in the league before his retirement. Now Gonzalez alone holds that title, with Manning and Washington's London Fletcher one year behind the tight end.
"I will miss playing against him," Manning said. "I enjoyed playing against him last year because he was one of the few guys that was older than me still in the NFL. I will miss competing against him and hope that we will continue to see each other. I know he will be successful in whatever he decides to do post football."