Derrick Brooks was determined to be successful wherever he played football. From Pensacola to Tallahassee to Tampa, Brooks was not just an All-American or an All-Pro—he was a charismatic leader.
And on Saturday, Brooks will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after 11 Pro Bowl seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Brooks didn't have to leave the Sunshine State to find success.
He was USA Today's National Defensive player of the Year in 1990 at Pensacola's Washington High. Brooks then transitioned from a 205-pound safety into a 225-pound linebacker at Florida State, where he helped the Seminoles win a national title in 1993 and was a consensus All-American in '93 and '94.
"From the time he came in to Tallahassee until he left, he was your model student, athlete and person," said former Seminoles defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, who recruited Brooks and coached him at FSU.
Brooks led by example and he set a high standard. He had 274 career tackles and five interceptions in his FSU career. But Andrews also remembers how Brooks prepared for games and cited the "depth of his knowledge" on the football field.
His leadership abilities were unquestioned.
"I guess you would say there's a place for privates, sergeants, colonels and generals," Andrews said. "The ones that get to be generals are the ones that lead by example but also vocally."
The lessons learned at FSU carried on to the NFL—even though he was drafted in the first round by the Buccaneers in 1995, one of the NFL's doormats for nearly two decades. In the 19 seasons since the expansion team began in 1976, the franchise had enjoyed just three winning seasons.
What Brooks brought to the Bucs was a dedication to football, to playing the sport at the highest level, preparing for each game and refusing to accept losing. It was something that began in Pensacola and continued in Tallahassee. Brooks knew how to not just win, but also win a championship. And he wanted to do the same thing in Tampa.
"He brought high character and he brought that desire to win," former Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "That's what transformed the Bucs. They weren't used to losing (at FSU)."
|Derrick Brooks' Pro Football HOF career (by the numbers)|
|0 - Games missed in 14 seasons||7 - Playoff appearances|
|1 - Super Bowl title (XXXVII)||11 - Pro Bowl selections|
|5 - Times Bucs led NFC in defense||25 - Career interceptions|
|6 - INT returns for a TD||1,698 - Career tackles|
|NFL.com, ESPN.com, Pro-Football-Reference.com|
The transformation took time. Brooks was drafted in 1995 and the Bucs went 7-9 in coach Sam Wyche's final season. But he played in 16 games, started 13, and had 78 tackles as a rookie.
Dungy was hired before the 1996 season, and the Bucs went 6-10. But Tampa Bay then made the playoffs in five of the following six seasons. And Brooks was routinely anchoring the middle of the defense.
"He was just a perfect guy for us to play in that system," Dungy said. "The thing he brought was preparation. Not going to leave any stone unturned. He understood how offenses would attack us. He put us in position to make plays."
While Dungy was out as the Bucs coach after a Wild Card loss in 2001, the team enjoyed a special 2002 season. The Bucs capped a 12-4 year with playoff wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles, and they won Super Bowl XXXVII in January 2003 by dominating the Oakland Raiders 48-21.
Brooks helped put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter when he intercepted a pass from Oakland's Rich Gannon and went 44 yards for a touchdown.
"The Super Bowl touchdown is special because, you know, very few people get that opportunity to play in the game alone and have a turnover that effects the game in the way that my interception did," Brooks said in a teleconference on July 22.
Brooks had quite an effect on the NFL. He was 6'0" and 235 pounds (adding 10 pounds from his FSU days) but he "transformed the position by developing into one of the best all-around linebackers in league history," writes Fred Goodall of The Associated Press.
While Brooks gives credit to the 4-3 defensive scheme that the Bucs utilized, he feels that he played his position so well that other teams tried to copy what Tampa Bay was doing.
"Players play the game, the system don't," Brooks said in the teleconference. "The system puts you in a position to play the game. So I like to think I set the standard when it got to the 4-3 defense for a bunch of years to the tune where a lot of teams tried to emulate what we did and how we played throughout my career."
Brooks played all 14 seasons in Tampa, collecting 1,698 tackles. He was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection.
"He's a great player," Dungy said. "He's going in the Hall of Fame. But he's a much better person than he is a player."
Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats are courtesy of FSU media guides, Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com.