Editor’s note: Warren Sapp was Derrick Brooks’ teammate for nine seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013, and is an analyst for the NFL Network.
We go back to the Florida-Georgia high school all-star game, 1991. I’m the tight end. Nobody could cover me. And here comes the national defensive player of the year, Derrick Brooks. We go out to practice. I had to wait two days; he’s valedictorian at his high school. Get your butt here, Mr. Valedictorian. Defensive player of the year got to cover me.
I shake him at the line. Run a crossing route. I catch it, turn upfield, ready to go. Brooks comes across my face, faster than anything I’ve seen in my life. I thought, ‘Now that would have hurt.’ I drop the ball. I tell Brooks, ‘Hey, man, didn’t I leave you on the other side of the field?’ Brooks goes, ‘Yup, but I’m coming.’
Now he’s coming to Canton, enshrined, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, heaven while you’re still alive. Ever since I found out, I’ve been waiting on him. It was just a formality, that vote. Brooks was coming.
We were just two country boys set to play a beautiful game together. It was a match made in heaven between two people who had different likes, but so many similarities. We were genuine. We were loyal. We forged a bond and a relationship with each other. He became my family and I became his.
We took a nightmare, 11 straight double-digit losing seasons, and turned it into a monster, a world champion. Just two country boys who meshed like dirt and water to make mud. I was the dirt. When that Mongolian desert gets ready to blow that dirt over there in China, there ain’t nothing they can do to stop it. That’s me. Brooks is like the Colorado River. Ain’t nothing going to stop him from flowing and running.
Derrick Brooks is the greatest outside linebacker who didn’t rush the quarterback who ever played in the NFL — period. If we’d asked him to rush the quarterback, no problem. You talk about someone who would look like Derrick Thomas if you put him on the end, that’s Brooks. We just didn’t ask him.
He came in an altar boy’s outfit off the field, but he carried a billy club and beat the hell out of you on Sundays. Great guy. You wanted to invite Brooks to dinner, date your daughter, take her to the prom. She’ll be back by 1. But on a Sunday, I’d tell people, this man is an absolute killer. He lit you up, destroyed you. Then helped you up.
He wasn’t a talker. You had to lean in. But when Brooks said what he said, oh, it would be powerful. It would shake a room.
He had a Hall of Famer in front of him and a Hall of Fame safety in Lynch, and a Hall of Fame nickel in Ronde, and a damn good ’backer in Hardy ... and he was the best of all of us. With everything around him, Brooks was better than all of us. I’m telling you: He was the glue. When anything got shaky, we turned to Brooks.
As a man, he’s unmatched. He’s had the same girlfriend since I’ve known him. Now she’s his wife. Him and Carol have been together since high school. What a man. If there’s one better, I’d like to meet him. Think of all the great work Brooks has done. All those children he helped, they became his children. When something strikes you as your own, people rally to you.
Genuine. Humble. Loyal. Tireless. I treasure my friendship with this man like I treasure my children.
Brooks, I’ve known you since 1991, since you were 17 and I was 18. Nothing on this earth does me greater joy and pride than to be standing there in Canton at that dinner when you get your gold jacket, because that’s when you become a Hall of Famer, that’s when you walk through a gauntlet of Hall of Famers and we welcome you to the club. I will be at the back, at the end of the line. I will be the last one you get to. I can’t wait to hold you in my arms. I know I’m going to cry, as I am right now.