Once the Bucs announced that, with Paul Gruber's 2012 induction, the team was not going to be inducting its past greats into the Ring of Honor in chronological order, it was safe to assume that the team's expected first ballot Hall of Famers-to-be, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, would be the team's ROH inductees in their years of entry into Canton. After Sapp went into both the Hall and the Ring last year, the Bucs announced today that Brooks would be likewise honored this year - and, as with Sapp, Brooks' own tautological jersey number would also be retired by the team.
The biggest surprise of the afternoon was the date of the induction ceremony, which will be September 14th. That Week 2 induction is the earliest into a season we've seen someone inducted - and the cynical among us couldn't be blamed for wondering if this was as much a ploy to ensure a sellout at the team's home opener as it is a salute to the great Bucs/Rams rivalries that went on in the late '90s and early '00s.
The announcement itself began with a short video of what sounded very much like a clip from a Churchill speech, before showing some Brooks highlights while the audio from an interview with the man himself was played in snippets over the top. Bryan Glazer officially made the announcement, beginning by explaining that the ROH was meant to reward those who had a lasting impact in the community as well as on the field, before going on to calling Brooks the 'soul' of those great Bucs defenses (with Sapp providing the 'heart'). After the usual list of his on-field accomplishments (though with special emphasis on Brooks having been awarded three different 'good-guy' awards - 'Whizzer' White and Walter Payton Man of the Year awards, and the Bart Starr award), Glazer also pointed out the work he did in the community both during his playing days, with the "Brooks Bunch", and after, with the Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School. After then announcing that the 'double nickel' jersey will be retired, Glazer concluded his intro with his own take on the old United Way commercials - "who's my favourite player? Mr Derrick Brooks".
Brooks, who's got a little pepper in his hair since retiring, started by thanking God, his wife and the Glazers, for drafting him into what Brooks called "our franchise". He thanked Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith next, praising Dungy for instilling in his players an appreciation for the value of learning and for looking to life beyond the field, and for challenging him to change the community. He thanked his teammates, though the only two he singled out by name were Hardy Nickerson and Lonnie Marts, for being the veterans in the linebacker room when he was a rookie. In particular, he said thanked Nickerson for "showing us how to work", and for setting the tone in the LB room - something that Bucs fans hope he'll bring to the current LB corps he now coaches. He thanked two further coaches, Joe Berry and Gus Bradley who succeeded Lovie Smith as the Bucs' LB coach, for continuously challenging him, before thanking the support staff.
A brief question and answer period followed, which featured nothing groundbreaking - he thinks it's extremely special to have his jersey retired but it probably won't hit him until the ceremony; he wants to be remembered as a 'servant leader' off the field, and as someone who made the game better because he was a part of it on the field; and that his streak of consecutive starts never really motivated him because he was too focused on the moment. He had advice the for new players that later this week will be coming into the league - that the most important thing for them is to make sure they complete their degree, or get as close to it as you can, because football won't last forever, and that they should come into the league with humility and listen, joking that he didn't have to talk much because one of his fellow 1995 draftees did enough talking for the both of them (no points for guessing who he's referring to). He went through a list of all the things he learnt from his various coaches - I won't pretend I got down accurately the name of his pre-NFL coaches, but they taught him mental toughness, the triangle read, and not to take himself to seriously. Maxie Baughan taught him about effort; Lovie taught him about a strategic way of learning; Berry taught him motivation; Bradley taught him consistency; Monte Kiffin gave him trust.
Of interesting note, even when he was specifically asked about Jon Gruden, Brooks never mentioned him once, so that was something that stuck out to me. Beyond that, it was a nice little lovefest for the man that remains, and is likely to remain for the foreseeable future, the greatest player in franchise history.