TAMPA — The heart of the best Tampa Bay Buccaneers team ever to take the field is already enshrined in the team’s pantheon of stars. Now, the soul of that team will have his place there, as well.
In what the honoree himself described as one of the worst-kept secrets in town, the Bucs on Tuesday named 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Derrick Brooks the latest member of the team’s Ring of Honor.
Brooks becomes the sixth member of the Ring, joining defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, former coach John McKay, tackle Paul Gruber, tight end Jimmie Giles and defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
“For years I used to bother our owners about us (not having) a ring of honor, and not because I thought I was ever going to be in it,’’ Brooks said. “It’s just that, everywhere we went, every team seemed to have one.
“So I’d ask them, ‘When are we going to get ours,’ because I always felt that we had a history here that we should embrace and celebrate, and so to have that now and actually be a part of it, well, it’s very special.’’
Here’s something else Brooks found special. Like Selmon (63) and Sapp (99), he will also have his No. 55 jersey number retired by the Bucs when he is officially enshrined in the Ring on Sept. 14.
“I had my number retired in high school and college, but this is a little different because now, every time something goes on (at Raymond James Stadium), they’ll see that number up there,’’ Brooks said.
“Whether they’re visiting or they live here in Tampa, people are going to see that number and they’re going to get a feel I hope for the legacy of what Derrick Brooks and that No. 55 was all about.’’
A 6-foot, 235-pound linebacker out of Florida State University, Brooks established a championship legacy during a celebrated 14-year pro career in which the Buccaneers were the only team he ever played for.
A first-round draft pick (28th overall) in 1995, he quickly became the unquestioned leader of the defensive unit that spearheaded the Bucs rise to prominence during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Along the way he became the team’s all-time leader in tackles with 2,198 while also recording 25 career interceptions, 25 forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, 13.5 sacks and 135 pass breakups.
His six career regular season interception returns for touchdowns are the second most in team history and he is the only linebacker in NFL history to have three interception returns for a touchdown in a season.
Brooks also had a key pick-six during the Bucs Bowl XXXVII victory over Oakland and was named the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the role he played in leading the Bucs to their lone Super Bowl title.
“Warren Sapp was the heart and Derrick Brooks was the soul of the defense that propelled us to a word championship,’’ Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer said in officially naming Brooks to the Ring of Honor.
“On any given Sunday, Derrick was easily the best athlete on the field. There was no tight end he couldn’t cover, no quarterback he couldn’t chase down and sack and no running back he could not tackle in the open field.’’
Nearly three dozen former teammates and coaches stopped by One Buc Place for Tuesday’s ceremony, including former Bucs coach Tony Dungy, who agreed with Glazer’s assessment that Brooks was the team’s soul.
“He really was the soul of that team,’’ Dungy said. “We had some really dominant personalities on that team but there was a special way that Derrick went about his business and conducted things.
“He would come to me and say, ‘You need to be on the lookout for this,’’ or he’d tell me, ‘here’s what’s going on.’ He had the heartbeat of the team, and it was in his heart to be like that for not only the team but the community.’’
Led by the 2000 Walter Payton Man of the Year award, the list of honors Brooks has received for his charitable work in the Tampa community is almost as lengthy as the list of awards he’s earn for his play on the field.
Brooks said he learned from Dungy early on in his career that his role with the Buccaneers stretched well beyond the locker room and the field and into areas where more than just fans are impacted.
“Coach Dungy told us that if our only mission here was to win a Super Bowl, then we all lose,’’ Brooks said. “So I really want to thank him for challenging me and giving me that message to change our community.
“And I want to thank all my assistant coaches and my teammates, because without you I wouldn’t be standing here. I hope I made you proud to have called me one of your teammates.’’