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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

The greatest Buccaneer of all time

At his Tampa home, he still has all his notebooks from all those game weeks for all those seasons with the Buccaneers, from the first to the last, always the details, every line highlighted.

He kept them because, well, Derrick Brooks keeps things, to mark a journey that is about to make a stop in Canton, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“When I write it down, I take ownership of it,” Brooks said. “When I write my game notes, I take ownership of them. I pray over them.”

By the way, about every line in his Bible is highlighted, too.

Write this down, then underline it 55 times:

Here’s the greatest Buc of all.

Here’s to a man in full, all in all the time at whatever he did.

Derrick Dewan Brooks, heart and soul of one of the great defenses in NFL history, who blew past all doubters (too small?) to become larger than life.

Derrick Brooks, who gave all he had for 14 seasons, never missing a game, iron, through and through, playing hurt, beyond pain, all those Pro Bowls.

Derrick Brooks, who always made the play.

Derrick Brooks, running in the night in San Diego, with another interception, for another touchdown, to seal a Super Bowl win.

Derrick Brooks the leader, unselfish, nonjudgmental, a touchstone teammates turn to even now. At Pensacola Washington High and Florida State University, he was superman, all everything in football and in the classroom, two worlds, but moving so easily between them, so comfortable in his own skin.

Derrick Brooks, forever on the go, maybe even more now than when he was playing, perpetual motion, things to do, things to achieve, striving to get better: the Tampa Bay Storm to run, or business interests, or his charities, or his high school, or a plane to catch for a speaking engagement, or home for his daughter’s softball game or simply to be a husband and father.

His nickname growing up was “Bo,” for bow-legged.

But has anyone ever walked a straighter line to greatness?

And stopped more times to help more people along the way?

Football just scratches the surface.

There’s his faith. There’s his family, Carol and the four children.

“Faith, family and community,” Carol said. “That’s all in. That’s Derrick.”

There are all those other Derrick Brooks kids, ones whose worlds he changed forever, through his giving, his charity, through the high school with his name on it. There are all those at-risk children he took all over the country, across the ocean even. They saw things they’d only dreamed about. Mr. Brooks made sure they dreamed some more and knew anything, anything, was possible.

“Treat everyone like you want to be treated.” Brooks can still hear those words of his late grandmother and mother. They echo through his life. Always he wanted to leave the world better than he found it. In a lot of young lives, he was an answer to a prayer.

“What does it say when you’re a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the biggest thing you do has nothing to do with football?” said former Buc Anthony “Booger” McFarland. “That’s Brooks all over.”

Yes, the football got No. 55 to Canton. As quiet as he seemed, as humble, there was a ferocity to Brooks on Sundays.

“You got the opposite jersey on, we got a problem,” he said. “We had a problem, and the only way we were going to settle it was to bump heads.”

I can still picture Brooks that 2002 Super Bowl season, in the open field, one-on-one with a young, spectacular Michael Vick, driving Vick into the grass.

Later, when Vick went to prison, Brooks was among the first to contact him. I remember what Brooks said about it, too:

“If we never reached out to anyone, we go through life with our arms crossed, and that’s no way to go.”

That’s Brooks all over.

Here’s to open arms. And greatness. And goodness.

Here’s to Derrick Brooks, a man who not only had a plan, but who kept all the notebooks.

Here’s to a life with a purpose, all in, as if it was another Super Bowl to win.

Write it down again. Then highlight it.

Here’s the greatest Buc of all.

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