Ronde Barber among Super Bowl keys

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden has been in the biggest spotlight of all during the week leading up to the Super Bowl, but among those who will actually play next Sunday, Ronde Barber finds himself near the top of the attention list.

Super Bowl XXXVII, according to most analysts, will come down to how well the top-ranked offense of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can handle the pass-happy offense of the Oakland Raiders.


And as the players involved in the NFL title game went through their final public obligation of the week Thursday, Barber was among those moving to center stage.

As he was headed for the Buccaneers' last interview session, Barber learned he had been named defensive player of the week for his effort during last Sunday's NFC title game against the Philadelphia Eagles.


"I had a pretty good game," Barber admitted when informed of the award. "It was a championship game. It was probably the biggest game in Bucs' history. All those things considered, I'm pretty honored to have that designation."

Barber recorded three tackles against the Eagles, had one sack, forced a fumble, defended four passes and clinched the victory by returning a fourth-quarter interception 92 yards for a touchdown."

A similar effort Sunday would go a long way to giving the Buccaneers a win in their first Super Bowl appearance.

Barber has been turning in such performances on a regular basis, but has not been among the more highly publicized players in the NFL. He has received more publicity for a national television commercial with twin brother Tiki Barber of the New York Giants than he has for his play on the field.

Against San Francisco in the divisional round, for instance, Ronde Barber helped limit flanker Terrell Owens to four catches and 35 yards. He even returned an interception 76 yards for a touchdown in that game, but it was wiped out by a penalty.

"I have had a lot of opportunities and I think I have prepared every week," Barber said. "When my opportunities come up, I just make the play. You can call it a zone or you can call it me just getting a lot of chances. Either way, I am making plays and that is a good feeling for me."


Despite that, Barber continues to be overshadowed by other defensive stars -- including some on his own team.

"I don't understand that," Gruden said. "He led the league in interceptions last year with 10. He's the reason we're here today. Ronde Barber is as good a football player as there is on our team as an all-purpose player.

"He's a great tackler, he plays with superb awareness and vision and he has very good coverage skills, is a very good athlete and he's one of the 50 best-looking people in the world."

The Buccaneers and Raiders went through the second of their three major workouts of the week Thursday and for one of the stars on the Oakland defense, this week's activities could be his last as an NFL player.

Free safety Rod Woodson, 37, indicated Thursday he might retire following Sunday's game.

"I don't know," said Woodson, who led the Raiders with eight interceptions this season. "I'm just going to play this game. Hopefully, we can win and enjoy the moment. Then we'll think about what's going to happen. We all know what looms over this team. They have a lot of decisions to make."


Oakland receiver Tim Brown also said it is not out of the realm of possibility that 73-year-old owner Al Davis may walk away should the Raiders capture the Lombardi Trophy.

"He may retire if we win the Super Bowl," Brown said. "I really think that's a possibility, even though I haven't heard that rumor in about five years. For him to go out that way would be perfect."

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