Super Bowl Will Be A Night To Remember For Tampa Official
TAMPA - For 50 years, Tampa's Clem Brooks has been an official, working football, basketball, softball and baseball, mostly at the high-school level, dabbling in some college games and even helping in youth leagues. Once in 1976, he was flabbergasted when a University of Rhode Island coach pulled his team off the court at Curtis Hixon Hall, convinced Brooks and his partner were not working impartially. The USF Bulls won by forfeit. "Embarrassing," Brooks said. He remembers being assigned to a state championship basketball game, when a Daytona Beach Mainland player named Vince Carter lit up the night."Exhilarating," Brooks said. And only six weeks ago, as a going-away present of sorts, he was assigned to the Class 6A state-championship game between Sanford Seminole and Miami Northwestern - big-time Florida football at its finest. "Unforgettable," Brooks said. But tonight, Brooks, 74, gets perhaps the most notable sporting event of his career. He's part of the sideline crew, the chain gang, during Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium. "It's an honor," Brooks said. "I can't believe it, really. But it will be a great thing for me and for all of us, really." Brooks, president of the West Coast Officials Association, has been part of the chain gang at Bucs games for four seasons. He remembers telling his crew, "Let's do this right, be as professional as possible and maybe we'll get a chance at working the Super Bowl." It happened. So Brooks, Kenny Calhoun, Steve Clouse II, Jerome Ford, Ken Keene, Jim Kelly, Darrell Richardson, John Tagler, Monty Theus and Reed Williams - accustomed to Hillsborough County's Friday Night Lights - will have a great view of America's biggest sporting event. Brooks said he'll treasure the moment. And at this moment - barring a change of heart - he said he's planning on hanging up the whistle for good after this basketball season. "I think it's time," said Brooks, a retired Air Force veteran and greeter at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, who wants to become more active with his church. "I've seen and done so many things, I can hardly remember them. I wish I would've kept a log of all the people I've met, all the games I've seen." A few names stand out. In football, Brooks remembers the jarring presence of Brandon's David Galloway and the running of Gaither's Lydell Ross. He won't soon forget the nights in the basketball gym with Robinson's high-flying Charlie Bradley and Chamberlain's deep-shooting Doug Aplin (Brooks raced up and down the court with the Aplin, then a teenager; Tuesday night, nearly four decades later, he was officiating a Chamberlain game with Aplin as the coach). In baseball, he recalls calling balls and strikes for Hillsborough's Dwight Gooden and Vance Lovelace, witnessing the batting eye of Jefferson's Tino Martinez and Luis Gonzalez and working with veteran coaches such as Jefferson's Pop Cuesta, Gaither's Frank Permuy and King's Jim Macaluso. "I've gotten a kick out of seeing kids grow up and make a good life for themselves," said Brooks, a longtime airport skycap, who constantly ran into ex-athletes during his travels. "You remember the earlier days, where they came from. You take some pride in that. "Of course, as an official, you are impartial. But these are kids and you want them to do the right thing, to have some success. I love it when I see some college or professional game and there's one of our guys performing well." Most of his games have been far from the bright lights - and quite unglamorous. In youth sports, it was common to work multiple games on a weekend day. He remembers calling a Tampa Catholic baseball game in the afternoon, going to change his uniform and officiating a TC basketball game at night. But he never really considered it work. Sports were a passion for the North Carolina native, once an aspiring baseball player himself, who counts NBA officials Mendy Rudolph and Joe Crawford as his role models. "It's important to the players and the coaches, but we are human and we do make mistakes," Brooks said. "You just try to be consistent. If you make a mistake, you can tell the coach, 'I missed that one, but I'm still working hard for you.' Over time, if your consistent and fair, you earn people's respect. "It's not a job you do to get a lot of praise. I knew that going in. But it was fun and there were some moments in the sun." The biggest one occurs tonight when Clem Brooks, a familiar face at fields, courts and diamonds all over the Tampa Bay area, is front and center at the Super Bowl.
Reporter Joey Johnston can be reached at (813) 259-7353.