As Derrick Brooks was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame tonight, he used his worldwide public forum to do what he always did best; give credit to others. Instead of the prototypical enshrinement speech that players make to display their motivation and, be it rightfully so, toot their own horn for twenty-plus minutes, Brooks read a long “thank you” letter.
Brooks, the only Hall of Famer to spend his entire career from pee-wee to NFL in one state, started by thanking Pensicola, Florida. Where he was raised, where he learned the game, where he found his love of football. He thanked High School coaches, mentors, and teammates. He moved on to Bobby Bowden of Florida State who was, in Brooks’ words, “The greatest coach in all of college football”, as well as the assistants, teammates, and position coaches. Then he moved on to the reason he was there; the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He thanked a lot of his teammates individually. He started with Mike Alstott, who was at the facility working with him before the sun ever rose, pushing each other in the weight room. He thanked Brian Kelly, who together, developed their own hand signals that not even the coaches knew about. “When we were asked after coaches reviewed the tapes, ‘What was that?’ and we’d smile and tell ’em ‘Don’t worry about it. Just trust us’. And they did”. He thanked Simeon Rice, “One of, if not the best pass rusher of my generation” for choosing Tampa Bay as a free agent and become the final piece to the puzzle. He thanked Ronde Barber for “sticking around just long enough to break my longevity record. And hopefully in a few years, it’ll pay off as he makes his own speech”. He thanked Martin Gramatica‘s right foot, much to the delight of the crowd. “We won a lot of games 9-6, 6-2, 12-9 and without his foot kickin’ those 52-yarders, we may not have won”. He thanked his close friend and fellow Hall of Fame member Warren Sapp. He said to the crowd, as Sapp fought back tears, “People always wonder how two guys who are so different can be so similar. I love you Warren, and I wouldn’t trade you for anything. It’s a scary feeling when a new head coach calls two 2nd-year men into his office and tells them he expects them to be the Joe Greene and Jack Ham of this defense. I asked how many pro bowls they went to, looked at Warren and told him ‘Let’s get to work’.” And finally, he thanked John Lynch, and emphasized how certain he was that next year, Lynch would be making his own speech.
He, of course, thanked his three NFL coaches. Sam Wyche, his coach for his rookie season. Tony Dungy, who made his the centerpiece of the infamous Tampa-2 defense. Jon Gruden, who challenged this team to be great. “We always talked about championships, but [Gruden] made us believe we could be great. He challenged us to be great, and we got those 9 touchdowns he demanded from us”. He thanked Lovie Smith, his position coach. And of course, Monte Kiffin, his defensive coordinator for 13 of his 14 seasons. Brooks played in every game of his NFL career and started all but the first three, a franchise record until Ronde Barber broke it in 2012.
Derrick Brooks used every minute of his speech thanking others and praising their impact on his life. He spoke of his mother who was “the ultimate tailgator”. He said, “My mother told me never to toot your own horn. When you do that, it only makes one sound. When others do it for you, it’s much louder”. So, to nobody’s surprise, Brooks didn’t toot his own horn one time tonight. Instead, as he always did, he let his play do the talking, and vowed to make the Hall of Fame a “better team” through his hard work and determination. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL “needs more guys like Derrick”. Brooks was always as charitable as he was respected for his on-field play and that’s the kind of example he will try to set as the NFL’s new appeal’s officer. He can help teach current players what it means to be a true professional.
Derrick Brooks may very well be the most loved and admired player in Buccaneer history and his spot amongst the greatest to ever put on pads is well deserved. His name and his bust will be forever enshrined in Canton, Ohio, and on September 14, his name will be unveiled in the Buccaneers’ Ring of Honor, as he will also have the distinction of having his number 55 retired, joining fellow Hall of Famers Warren Sapp‘s 99 and Lee Roy Selmon‘s 63 as the only numbers in Buccaneer history that will never be worn again.