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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Humble, joyful Brooks joins immortals

Published:   |   Updated: February 2, 2014 at 11:09 AM

TAMPA — Derrick Dewan Brooks made the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.

The newest Brooks Bunch — made of bronze.

He had been a lock since he retired after 14 seasons. I bet it took 14 seconds for Hall electors to agree. First ballot. The club within the club. Another level. Derrick Brooks’ level.

“Thought of tonight is JOY, HUMILITY and gratefulness,” Brooks tweeted. “I’m in the Hall of Fame now.”

He’ll be enshrined this summer, a year after first-ballot teammate Warren Sapp.

Sapp in front, Brooks right behind. Perfect.

Well, maybe not perfect. Tony Dungy didn’t make the Hall on Saturday. Nor did John Lynch. Their time should come.

“There didn’t need to be much discussion about 55,” Lynch said.

This is for Derrick Brooks, the Bucs’ all-time leading tackler and all-time leading Pro Bowler and all-time Buc, when you come right down to it.

This is for 55, a humble man who hauled down the Bucs’ dark ages and settled for nothing less than putting up a Super Bowl championship banner, which had once seemed impossible. Now it’s forever. And so is Brooks.

This is about the 1995 NFL draft, Brooks chosen late first round, way too late. Seems some NFL teams questioned whether Florida State’s star linebacker, for all his All-America honors and a national championship, was big enough to play pro ball.

He turned out to be larger than life, on and off the field.

There was the Super night in San Diego, Brooks, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, galloping down the sideline with another interception, for another touchdown, to seal the final prize. Then he cried. Cameras caught it. That’s forever, too.

Joy.

Humility.

Long before that, Brooks had defined himself as the leader of a defense with so many of them.

They turned to Brooks.

They looked to the man they called “The Don.”

There was the Brooks from any game week, getting ready, carrying his notebook down the hall, the straight-A student, every line already highlighted. But there was always more film to watch. The man was a professional.

There was Brooks in open field, seeing a play develop, flying to it, blowing it up, hundreds and hundreds of times.

There was Brooks, the Iron Man, who never missed a game.

There was the Brooks who wasn’t just football. He still isn’t,

There was Brooks, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, or Brooks as a Florida State trustee. There was the Brooks who took children to Africa, Washington or any place where they could learn and dream. There’s the Brooks who helped found Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School in Tampa.

His late mother, Geraldine, taught him that each day the Lord gave you was a good one.

Joy.

Humility.

Brooks played for Tony Dungy, but there was more between them, right from the start.

“Because he gets it,” Dungy said a few weeks ago. “He understands the whole thing — to whom much is given, much is required. Football wasn’t his life. It was a big part, but it wasn’t his whole life. Making Tampa a better place to live was a much bigger goal for him.”

It was always more than football. But Brooks’ football was wall-to-wall Hall.

“I thank God for lighting that fire,” he once said. “It’s never needed to be re-lit. It helps me rise to a level when people think it’s not there.”

It showed Derrick Dewan Brooks the way to Canton.

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