One-on-One: Buccaneers Legend Derrick Brooks Part I
By James Yarcho
In a conversation with Derrick Brooks we discussed being named “Pewter Plank’s Most Beloved Buc of All Time”, his part in the biggest turnaround in franchise history, and how he took his departure.
As far back as my Buccaneers fandom goes, there has always been a respect and admiration for Derrick Brooks. He and John Lynch were always my two favorite players. The way they approached the game, the way Lynch hit opposing players, the way Brooks flew around the field. At some point, you would question whether or not there was more than one player wearing the number 55.
So many of us remember that magical Super Bowl run. When they lost to the Eagles in the regular season and Brook walked to the sideline telling Philly “We’ll be back. We’ll be back.” The touchdown he had against Baltimore where he ran nearly the length of the field. That clinching moment against the Raiders as he returned an interception for a touchdown and was overcome with emotions, embracing head coach Jon Gruden. You saw all those years of hard work and perseverance pour out of him.
If afforded the opportunity, I could listen to Derrick Brooks speak all day long. Whether it’s discussing the Buccaneers, his charitable foundations, his role with the Tampa Bay Storm, or just life in general, he has a way of captivating his audience. My childhood self was mystified – and admittedly nervous – when the voice of my all time favorite player answered the phone to give me a little bit of his time.
The first question was an obvious one for me as this all happened because of our Most Beloved Buc tournament grabbed his attention back in April, leading to this opportunity;
James Yarcho: Obviously this all started about five months ago when we ran our March Madness style tournament for the Pewter Plank readers to vote on their most beloved Buccaneer and you won. So, I’m curious – what did you think when you were voted that by our readers and Bucs fans on Twitter? There was Warren Sapp and Lee Roy Selmon and Tony Dungy and everyone picked you as their absolute all-time favorite.
Derrick Brooks: I was shocked. To be honest with you, when you bring up the likes of Tony Dungy, Lee Roy Selmon, and Warren, it makes me that much more humble that people would think of me in that regards. I would like to think that receiving that honor was something that’s much more than just number 55 on a football field.
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JY: And of course, you were an integral part of arguably the biggest turnaround in NFL history in terms of franchises. What was it like to be part of that turnaround? To go from the laughingstock and the jokes and Chris Berman talking about the “Yucks” invented losing, then to team up with Warren and John Lynch and to be part of a team that went from that laughingstock to hoisting a Lombardi trophy?
DB: You know, I really enjoyed the process. And the life lessons of going through that process and what it teaches you. From hard work and grinding to perseverance and bonding with your teammates. That small building provided an environment of intimacy where you really had to get to know your teammates just beyond the field. And that helped us grow together. We were able to keep a nucleus of players together over an extended amount of years and through that form of building, we were able to accomplish that turnaround you’re referring to.
JY: Now, as far as the life lessons going into that, obviously there were things you learned by sheer experience, but somebody like Tony Dungy; how influential was he in your growth not only as a football player but as a man and the lessons that you learned from him?
DB: You believe that he brought a level of stability to our organization and a professional way of doing business that was not there prior to him getting there. And he brought a family atmosphere in a building, in a professional environment. I think he established ‘what you see is what you get’, he had a phrase ‘No excuses, no explanations’, and we did our best to live up to that motto. At the same time build, and catch a lot of teams we thought were ahead of us.
JY: Is there a particular story or memory or moment you have – whether it was in the locker room, on the team plane, team bus – where it might be a favorite story of yours that not many, if any, Bucs fan know about?
DB: Too many to tell (laughs). And at the same time, some things are not meant to be told. So I say that political answer to protect all parties involved. Just know, the atmosphere that we created, we were able to excel. We were able to compete. We were able to grow as professionals. And more importantly, we were able to establish winning. And that winning, in my opinion, goes well beyond the white lines on a football field. We were able to win a community. That was probably coach Dungy’s secret sauce.
JY: You talk about winning which, of course, through the Dungy years and into the Gruden years for the most part, that was something you guys did. There were a couple of down years with Gruden, but by and large, you were always competitive, always in contention, always a team that was talked about as a defensive powerhouse and contender in the NFC. Not to drudge up any bad memories – it’s still a bad memory for me and I was just a fan – but since you were released by the Bucs they’re on their fourth head coach, a 36-76 record, six quarterbacks, nothing but bad memories of the Bucs of old have been what this team’s been for almost ten years now. What do you see when you look at this team now? With Dirk Koetter in charge, Jameis Winston being such an unbelievable leader at such a young age. Does it remind you of your turnaround? Or do you see something completely different?
DB: I see something completely different because of where they are. It’s many years away and for whatever reason, the struggles have been there. I just personally choose to look at it beyond me. Decisions were made at that time and I definitely understand them in the position I serve now. That you have to make those tough calls and I never, to this day, never had a problem with the decision alone. We play this game knowing that’s a possibility. I just had, along with people that approach me, felt it could’ve been done differently. That is that. But, I’ve done the best I can and the organization has, too. We’ve moved on. We’re definitely in a different place right now. I can’t wait to see the team and support them in any way I possibly can.
Next: Jameis Winston Named NFC Offensive Player of the Week
I wrote yesterday about Brooks’ feelings on the linebacker duo of Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander – two players he has high praise for and has worked with. Our conversation ventured into Brooks’ life after the Buccaneers as well as his current call in life with the Tampa Bay Storm. Stay tuned for that right here at the Pewter Plank on Friday.