It would be downright impossible to rewrite the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers without including Derrick Brooks. The undersized linebacker hailing from Pensacola, Florida, who never played a down of football for any team outside the state, helped fortify the Bucs into a legitimate contender after nearly two decades of humiliating losses.
But what about the NFL? If the league was compiling a history book of the 1990s and 2000s, could it be written without mentioning his name?
That’s what Saturday’s Pro Football Hall of Fame selection meeting will be about — 46 writers gathering to determine Brooks’ worth and stacking it against the other finalists all vying for immortality and a bust in Canton, Ohio, determining who’s meant the most.
I’m sure it’s a difficult process, getting up there and making a case against others who are all very deserving, especially when there’s a maximum of five modern-day candidates who can make the cut. How exactly do you pitt Brooks’ achievements against those of former Seahawks offensive tackle Walter Jones or Tony Dungy, the coach who paved the way for Brooks and teammate Warren Sapp by installing his Tampa 2 defense?
God be with those who have to get up there and argue, especially when it comes time for former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., whose enormous legal woes are hard to overlook, even with five Super Bowls in a span of 14 years.
But in Brooks’ case, it should be the easiest decision the committee has to make. When other candidates appear to be home run-hitters, Brooks is a grand slam. You can check the accolades or put in the tape. Neither lie, although a trip down memory lane doesn’t hurt.
Eleven Pro Bowls, nine straight All-Pro selections, and he played in 224 games, never missing a single game in his 14-year career. He was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, peaking when his team needed his heroics most.
He set an NFL-record four defensive touchdowns that season, and his mark of three interceptions returned for a touchdown that year has never been duplicated by another linebacker.
He was named the “Whizzer” White Man of the Year in 2003 by the NFL Players Association, the Pro Bowl MVP in 2005, won the Bart Starr Award, and he was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, which carries significant weight in the eyes of the selection committee. That doesn’t even include his off-the-field work, which garnered him recognition as Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Only one other linebacker in NFL history has had as many career pick-6s, and that is Hall of Famer Bobby Bell. His 219 consecutive starts ties him for tenth in NFL history and until 2013, he was the most of any player at his position.
Truth is, you’d be hard-pressed to find an NFL linebacker who roamed from sideline to sideline so freely, making the impossible play look routine. He was a textbook tackler, a menace against the run, and even more dangerous in coverage, setting a near-impossible standard for future players who faced the daunting task of lining up at that position.
Brooks had it all. He was lightning in a bottle, and exactly what the Bucs needed to make Tony Dungy’s defense work behind the disruptive three-technique that was Warren Sapp, to shut down the electrifying dual-threat quarterback Michael Vick, to conquer the frigid cold in Philadelphia once and for all and to pick off league-MVP Rich Gannon with a 44-yard pick-6 in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Perhaps Sapp is the most compelling reason why Brooks should get the nod. Their success in the Tampa 2 system fed off their ability to work in unison. It was the reason that system was adopted throughout the league, though not replicated with nearly the same success. Seeing one get in on the first ballot and not the other would mean the system is flawed beyond repair.
Ultimately, it’d be a travesty if Brooks’ name wasn’t called Saturday, although by all accounts, he gets the nod on the first try. The numbers put up are simply too great, the moments too memorable and the impact is still being felt.