TAMPA — “I’ve known Derrick since fourth grade. Let me just start right there.”
That’s Carol Brooks, Derrick Brooks’ wife.
Start right there, in Pensacola, Derrick Brooks riding his bicycle past Carol Fountain’s house, making fun of her dog.
“I was not too fond of Derrick at first,” Carol said. She smiled.
It’s a love story. They’ve known each other nearly all their lives. She still calls him “Bo,” his childhood nickname. They’re a team. They look out for each other, and their four children, protecting their time together.
“She always has my back,” Derrick said.
“I’ve had his back and he’s had mine,” Carol said. “I guess growing up with someone early on, you see the ins and outs of their life. I guess because we were friends first, that made us closer.”
Now comes Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend in Canton, Ohio. Derrick Brooks says he isn’t there without faith and family.
Carol Brooks just wants her husband to savor the enshrinement festivities. She’s a little worried. She knows the man is about the details, one of the things that made him the Bucs’ great linebacker. And she knows he’ll be thinking about all the family and friends coming to Canton, making sure everything is OK. That’s just her Bo.
“But I want him to enjoy this,” Carol said. “I don’t want him to worry about who doesn’t have a ticket to the parade or have a ticket to something else. That’s where I’ll step in. I don’t want him to be distracted. This is his time. I’m looking forward to seeing him enjoy it.”
Brooks, football iron man, will tell you about the ice bags his wife had ready for him when he ached from practice. Carol will tell you that her husband always left the football at the front door, just as he does now, after whirlwind days of business, charitable and educational commitments. She keeps him grounded.
“Football is separate. He’s in the public eye there,” Carol said. “But that doesn’t mean that it’s going to enter our home.”
“When I pull in, and open the garage, it’s husband, father,” Derrick said. “She makes sure I do that. That’s kind of how we operate. My wife doesn’t want any spotlight.”
Through Derrick Brooks Charities, Carol oversees “Rites of Passage,” a program that mentors young women. She wants to be involved. She points to her husband.
“Derrick motivates me to be better, to help others be better,” Carol said. “He makes me realize how important life is and how important it is to live life, to be in the presence of life.”
“She makes me really want to uphold our family name, set an example for our kids,” Derrick said.
Brianna, 19, attends Florida Atlantic University. Decalon, 15, who’ll introduce his father Saturday night in Canton, is a student-athlete at Gaither High School. And there are Darius and Dania, 13 and 8.
“I’m so proud of all my babies,” Carol said. “Derrick included. He’s my biggest baby.”
She could go on and on about the other Bo she knows, the one who isn’t all that serious, the one with the deep laugh, the joker, the grown man who still watches cartoons with the kids and who insists that part of professional wrestling is real.
“He tells me all the time,” Carol said. “I tell him I can look at the TV and know it’s not real. I’m like, ‘Baby, c’mon …’”
Carol and Derrick have done the planning for the party after his enshrinement, to be held in a large tent on the Hall of Fame grounds. Carol thinks about Derrick’s mother, Geraldine, who passed away in 2007. Geraldine was the life of any party.
“She believed in celebrating moments,” Carol said. “I hope Derrick can. I’m encouraging him. I want him to dance a little bit. He’s not a great dancer, but I want him to dance. I’m not a good dancer, but we’re going to get out there and it is what it is. Derrick doesn’t drink, but he’s going to dance a little bit.”
She has seen him work on his enshrinement speech.
“He’s real excited about this. Derrick is usually so cool. Now I see him getting a little antsy. He just wants to get it right, his message. And I tell him, ‘Baby, you already got it right. You lived it. This is the easy part.’ His life is the message. That’s hitting the nail on the head.”