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Saturday, Oct 21, 2017
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Joe Henderson Columns

Brooks Takes The High Road To Life's Next Challenge

TAMPA - If you were expecting tears, you didn't get them. There was no anger. There were no parting shots. There also were no answers about the future. Those will come soon enough. Derrick Brooks left the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - for now, anyway - on the high road, a path from which he never strayed in 14 exemplary seasons. At a news conference this morning at One Buc Place, Brooks' first public session since being released from the team two days ago, he was complimentary, smiling and grateful.
To borrow the cliche, he was who we thought he was. "I look forward to whatever doors God will open for me next," he said. The man obviously needs some time to see what those doors might be, but if I had to hazard a guess I'd say retirement is at least 50-50 right now. The NFL free agent season opened today, and Brooks suggested that some teams have been in contact already. Of course they have, and more will. But as great a football player as Brooks was, he is at least the equal of that off the field. We know his good works so well; there is a lot of Tony Dungy in the man. If he can come to grips in the next few weeks that the open door leads to the next phase of his life, he can walk away and not look back. The only real glimpse into his state of mind came in how the event was handled. The Bucs offered their media relations staff and facility to host the news conference, and Brooks accepted. That was a tipoff that this was going to be classy, for if he wanted to rip those who just released him he would have chosen another place or way to say goodbye. Made One Request But he did have one request. If you notice the photos or video coverage, you won't see the Bucs' logo screen in the background. That was done at Brooks' request. The logo was on the microphone because they couldn't do much about that, but Brooks hinted it would be too emotional to stand before a screen adorned with Buc emblems. His choice of wardrobe spoke volumes, too - a blue warmup suit, rather than the familiar pewter and red. But when he was asked about the team's decision to release him, he stayed positive. "You be a man about it," he said. No one expected anything else. So everyone waits while he sorts out the next chapter in his life, whether that's playing linebacker for another team or immersing himself in the business of being indispensible to the community's children and needy. He said he'll rely on what he calls "the three P's: prayer, perspective and purpose." Like I said, I think it could go either way. You start thinking of what life could be like for this man once he stops playing. He could run for political office. He could throw himself full time into the school that is already named for him. The Bucs have made it clear he has a parking place and an office when he is ready to go to work for them. When you think about it, there aren't many jobs there he couldn't do, including coaching. He was taking pains to make sure his departure doesn't leave too many wounds behind in the locker room. There is still a job to do. "That was my message to my former teammates," he said. "Buy into what's going on. Buy in to what's being said." Maybe his most telling comment came when he was asked about who he thinks might replace him as a leader on the team. "I would really suggest no one try to be me," he said. "I didn't try to be me. Leadership comes naturally."
One Of A Kind This isn't like somebody died, you know. For all the emotion wrapped up in a decision like this, Brooks isn't going away - even if he plays somewhere else for a year or two. The business of football can't affect the quality of the man, and that man stood before the Tampa Bay area on Friday morning, proud and strong. For 14 seasons he showed everyone how to play the game. On a warm Friday morning, he showed everyone how to handle a tough situation with grace and dignity. "I'm always here," he reminded everyone. "You never leave relationships."
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