Editor’s note: Tony Dungy was Derrick Brooks’ head coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996 to 2001. Dungy, a Tampa resident who won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts in 2007, is a football analyst with NBC Sports.
The first time I met Derrick Brooks, I was defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings and it was the NFL combine. I remember asking him, “People say maybe you’re a safety. You’re not big enough to use as a linebacker. What do you say?’’
Derrick just said, “I can play linebacker. I can be that.’’ No frills. No brag. That was just what he did. It was almost the sense of him saying, “I’ve got some things in mind I want to do and I feel like I’ll get them done.’’
Some guys say things like that and it’s so over the top, it turns you off. Derrick wasn’t like that. He wasn’t afraid. He wanted to be the best. That was his goal. So it was what you would expect from Derrick. He was low-key, but firm and he stated his goal with resolve.
Obviously, when I became head coach of the Bucs in 1996, I was thrilled that Derrick was on the team. I had an idea that we could do some things with him in the defense, but it worked out even better than I could have dreamed.
When I heard he had been selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it was almost the feeling of a proud parent. So few guys come along with that kind of ability and really, really get it. He did. And I saw that early on.
We wanted to win, we wanted to impact the community, we wanted to do it the right way and we wanted to leave a legacy. Derrick understood that. Once we got going in 1997, with the way he was playing and the drive that he always displayed, you just knew this movie was going to be a really good one. He had it on the field and he had it off the field. He was the complete package.
There are plenty of people who can tell you what to do and the right thing to do, but there are fewer people who do that all the time. That was Derrick. He wants to help his teammates, the students at his school, the community, the neighborhoods. It’s so rare to have someone like that.
Even after my time with the Bucs, our relationship has remained special. Hardly a month goes by where we don’t have some kind of conversation.
I still see his drive and determination. Most guys are satisfied with being very good. If they want to be great, they want it for individual reasons. Derrick wanted to be great in a team concept. It’s very unique. I’ve seen special guys like Franco Harris and Peyton Manning, but there aren’t many like that who can lift everyone’s level.
Take into consideration all the things he does off the field, the type of person he is, then throw in the fact that he did that while going to 11 Pro Bowls in a row, which requires tremendous time, energy and determination by itself. That’s what makes him so unique.
When I watch him being inducted in Canton, I think my mind will go back to the first meeting we had with the Bucs. I was telling him about the defense and what his position would entail. I said, “For us to be good, you’ve got to be special. If you are special, we can be great. I need you to be special. I need you to be a leader.’’
He set the tone. He didn’t shy away from the responsibility.
What an incredible career he had in the NFL. But with Derrick, you’ve got to look so much deeper. With him, it’s never about just the player. It’s about the man.
He accomplished everything I ever could have imagined — and so much more.