Before the game, the new head coach approached the Iron Man. Greg Schiano approached the ageless one on the subject of beginning the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season opener at his old home, cornerback.
"Is it important?" Schiano asked.
Ronde Barber thought, then smiled.
"Well, 200 is a nice even number."
"All right, you're going to play nickel in the first snap no matter what they're in, get the 200 that way, and then we'll go about our business," Schiano said.
After the game, Barber smiled again.
"It was a great gesture by him. It was much appreciated."
So was the way Mr. 200 played. Oh, did he go about his business.
Sack, pick, play after play. Few Bucs have ever seized a stage like Ronde Barber, more by deed than talk, but he seizes it just the same. He is the man for moments.
On the day of his 200th consecutive NFL start, a ridiculous number, the 37-year-old Barber was ridiculously sensational to start his 16th NFL season, sack, pick, and more, lighting the way as the Bucs broke big and bold under Schiano, a 16-10 win over Carolina, a defense win.
The oldest man in this game tore it to pieces, even as tributes from old teammates and coaches flooded video boards at Raymond James Stadium.
What was this, a eulogy?
We had a live one here — still.
"It was a special day, for sure," Barber said.
He was all over the Panthers all day, his first at free safety, with another first-half sack, a key third-quarter interception in Bucs territory. Late in the game, a game still in doubt, Barber threw all 180 of his pounds into all 245 of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton's pounds for a huge third-down stop near the Bucs' goal line.
"That hurt," Barber said.
You know what didn't hurt? It was Barber seeing all those kids around him making big plays, making them fast and making them sure.
"It felt like old times," Barber said.
This franchise had lost 10 in a row, so many in a row that Barber's coach and friend, Raheem Morris, was swept out the door. This defense gave up nearly 500 points last season. The Bucs gave up 86 of those points against these Panthers, with Newton, then a rookie, accounting for eight touchdowns.
Now rookie safety Mark Barron was racing across the field to deflect a sure reception, or putting that lick he put on Panthers receiver Steve Smith. Aqib Talib was blocking that punt, or there was Ahmad Black's pick, or all that run stuffing (10 yards, total!) or Gerald McCoy and the pass rush getting to Newton. Ronde Barber loved all of it, guys swarming, playing so fast, '02 fast. But Ronde was the leader.
He never gets old. Neither does watching him.
His was the 28th sack of his career, a record for defensive backs, and his 44th interception. Incredibly, it was only the second time Barber had a sack and interception in the same game. He didn't believe it.
"That sounds like some right-wing rhetoric," he said.
Actually, there was this other game where Barber managed a pick and a sack, though it doesn't count in official regular-season records: The 2002 NFC title game in Philadelphia. Yeah, there was that one, too.
There was a time we all wondered if Barber would return for this season, and he did some of the wondering. But he found an immediate comfort level with Schiano, accepted a position switch as well as Schiano pushing him to be a more vocal leader for this young defense and team.
"There's no better example than him, on or off the field," Gerald McCoy said.
It was like that Sunday. it was just another chance for the man to go and do his job, no matter what the season or where he's playing.
"I'm just a football player," Ronde Barber said.
It felt like old times.