PFTYes, veteran cornerback Rondé Barber will retire after 16 NFL seasons. On Thursday, the Buccaneers will make it official via a 2:00 p.m. ET press conference. And it sounds like another Ring of Honor induction and jersey retirement eventually will happen. “Rondé is synonymous with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, establishing himself as one of our franchise’s iconic players over a 16-year, Hall of Fame-worthy career,” Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer said. “When anyone thinks of Rondé, they think of a true professional and leader. He approached every day the same, giving everything he had to make himself and his teammates the best they could be. We will miss him.” Barber became a fixture in the Tampa Two defense, tackling and covering receivers, sacking quarterbacks via the surprise blitz, and scoring 14 career regular-season return touchdowns. “You heard the argument, ‘Oh, he’s only a system guy. He can only do this,’” Barber told JP Peterson of TampaBaySportsCentral.com. “Well, in a defense that everybody started playing, I did it better than anybody else.”

Ronde Barber is retiring today, and it only felt right to pay tribute to the man who not only gave me one of the most painful memories of my entire life, but who also released me from the opiatic grip of religion.

See, in 2003 the Philadelphia Eagles were supposed to go to the Super Bowl. Everybody in 2002-2003 knew this. The Eagles — the obviously superior team heading into an NFC Championship date with the Bucs — had earned home field advantage and were set to fulfil the dreams of millions of championship-starved Philadelphians. In fact, the Eagles had one of the greatest home field advantages in history: the much-maligned filthy pissbucket known as Veteran’s Stadium was to be torn down to make way for the new Lincoln Financial Field, thus making this game the last Eagles game EVER in the Vet. The only stadium with a courtroom and jail BUILT INTO THE STADIUM to control rowdy fans was hosting it’s final contest? God was on our side.

Now I don’t remember too many details about the actual game since it was so long ago and frankly I think my brain may have purposefully blocked many of those memories, but I do remember the Eagles were down late and driving. Although the score didn’t say as much, you had the feeling that the Birds were in control.  Things would turn out for the best.  We had already lost in the NFC Championship game the year before — the team’s destiny of clinching a Super Bowl trip to close out The Vet was inevitable.

Then, on a simple out pattern inside the Bucs 20, Ronde Barber stepped in front of a McNabb pass and saw nothing in front of him except open space and ugly green Vet turf. Next — complete silence.

To me, no single moment in Philly sports history stands out as much as this one. Nobody spoke afterwards. My friend punched a hole in his wall. I walked home alone a few miles to clear my head. Stopped into a supermarket and everyone was silently dejected, scarily mirroring the same feeling the neighborhood had after the 9/11 attacks. Probably doesn’t speak too well about the priorities of your average Eagles fan, but I’d be lying if I said the feeling wasn’t eerily similar.  We’re obviously still not over it:

During that walk home I thought about Ronde Barber and how happy he probably was and had an epiphany. Well, about as clear an epiphany as a pissed-off and highly-emotional high school kid could have. God doesn’t exist.  And if he does, he has no care for the personal feelings of individual human beings. He can’t, since what helps one of us most often will hurt another. Whether it’s the outcome of a football game or who lands a job or which countries have access to water — it all depends on perspective.  And Ronde Barber’s cocky nameplate pointing and celebration made that clearer to me than anything else possibly could have at the time.

So thank you, Ronde. For while your actions may have damned my soul to eternal hellfire, you’ve freed my earthly body from the weight of religious guilt.

PS – Nah, nevermind. I’d still rather have that win.