Tampa - One month ago Ronde Barber made his decision.
He really knew as he was exiting a meeting he had with Bucs GM Mark Dominik and Head Coach Greg Schiano.
Ronde told them "he would be good either way."
He knew then if he really wanted to play another year, he would have said so.
Not to say the Bucs were in agreement. They DID want Ronde back.
But 16 seasons of bringing everything he had was enough.
He leaves the game with a litany of stats that are too numerous to mention.
Let's just say he is in Hall of Fame conversations. That says enough.
Most of you know Ronde through the media.
I've been fortunate to know Ronde a bit deeper than that.
I actually met his wife, Claudia before she met Ronde.
When I first met him, he was so unlike many other athletes I've run into outside of the football arena.
A regular guy, who always found a reason to smile. A guy who could put anyone in a comfort zone.
Very respectful, just a genuinely nice guy.
I've met a few others like Ronde that have roamed the corridors of One Buc, even as far back as the old trailer days near the airport.
Guys like Steve DeBerg, Vinny Testaverde, Mark Carrier, Martin Mayhew, Scot Brantley, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Derrick Brooks and others.
Players who had talent, but didn't walk around like they were a prize to admire.
That was Ronde. That is Ronde.
A passionate man who cares for his family and his craft.
In 1997, he made his way down to Tampa as the Bucs third round pick.
Just like every other athlete, he was a babe in the woods, learning his way around the game at the highest level while becoming acquainted with the community.
One year would pass, then two, next thing you know he, as has many athletes, found the Tampa Bay area a place to call home.
So there came a time on Sunday afternoons when he would put that #20 jersey on and went out not to represent just the Bucs, he was representing you.
Two years ago, I thought the season was going to tear him apart.
Here was a seasoned professional, doing it the right way while a few others weren't.
Had that year gone differently, I'm not so sure he would have played a year ago.
We have something in common. Both of us had doubters early on in our careers.
Both of us had people say, "I'm not so sure you're cut out."
Well, do I need to say more.
No one tells one they can't do it.
That first year Ronde struggled as he said was the best thing that ever happened to him.
He went to work, and built himself a legacy.
I'm going to miss seeing him around One Buc, on Sunday afternoons after the game.
I'm pretty darn sure the Bucs are going to miss him too, especially in that defensive backs' room.
As Ronde told me today, leaders are not afraid to take charge, not afraid to dress someone down if need be.
Oh, he would leave the locker room on Sundays so mad, but held back a bit in front of the mike.
Come Monday morning, there was no mike, but he had the stage.
I've said this countless times before. I admire someone who says what they mean and mean what they say.
Well I'm about to say something now.
I sure hope someone in that Bucs locker room learned how to be a leader from Ronde.
Just like Ronde learned from the likes of Hardy Nickerson, among others.
I'll be looking for that guy. So will Ronde.
In the meantime, Ronde will play a little more golf, and then the odds are 1-9 he's headed into TV broadcasting.