Barnes, who was a Lion on the 1993 tour of New Zealand, was writing in The Times after legendary Lion Ian McGeechan was awarded a Knighthood in the New Year's Honours List.
Having been a close observer of the Lions' 2009 adventure through his work with Sky Sports, Barnes has no doubt that the most-recent crop of tourists showed the entire world the manner in which rugby should be played.
The Lions may have narrowly lost the Test series 2-1 to Springboks but Barnes views the tour as a huge success.
"The sheer heroism of the team from the first to last minute of the series, the manner in which they played was something special in this day of winner takes all," said Barnes, who wore Lions colours on eight occasions 17 years ago.
"On this occasion, the Lions lifted the standards of attacking rugby and took the game to the world champions, especially in the second test in Pretoria.
"McGeechan's team did more than just reignite the British and Irish love of the Lions…he reminded everyone that there is more to life than winning."
And while that series defeat still rankles with McGeechan as the one of the most painful of his career, Barnes believes the 63-year-old Scot should be immensely proud of his own achievements with the 2009 Lions.
The Lions produced a stunning brand of rugby in the Republic, coming within inches of taking the scalp of the World Cup holders in their own backyard, and Barnes hopes his former coach will take comfort from the overall impact his latest band of warriors have had on the global game.
"Ironically the Knighthood came after a series loss but in some ways this defeat was his greatest triumph," added Barnes.
"The Lions are about a way of life and not just a set of results. In 1989 in Australia and 1997 in South Africa they triumphed through a limited brand of tenacious rugby.
"McGeechan has won aplenty through his coaching career and while he is far too competitive ever to celebrate defeat, the rest of us can raise a glass to a man whose passion for the game saved the Lions, took their message beyond rugby's confines. He proved winning is not all.
"The last line would be tough for a loser to take but McGeechan is one of rugby winners and great men, even in defeat."