What Tuesday's announcement lacked in surprise it more than made up for in unanimity. Brooks was the obvious choice because he was the only choice. The Ring of Honor would not have been complete for one more year without inclusion of arguably the greatest player in franchise history. Brooks' election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February – he will be formally inducted in August in Canton, Ohio – was the impetus for this inevitable honor, just as it was for last year's Ring honoree, Warren Sapp.
Brooks and Sapp were the heart of a legendary Buccaneer defense that rose to prominence in the second half of the 1990s and eventually carried the franchise to its first Super Bowl Championship in 2002. Those two have joined Lee Roy Selmon – perhaps the only other player who could unseat Brooks as the greatest in franchise annals – as the only primary Buccaneers in the Hall of Fame, and Brooks and Sapp were the first two to make it in on their first year of eligibility.
The late Selmon was also the first person inducted into the Ring of Honor, during the 2009 season. He was followed in 2010 by founding Head Coach John McKay, in 2011 by tight end Jimmie Giles and in 2012 by tackle Paul Gruber. Sapp's name and number were added to the stadium façade during a halftime ceremony of a Monday Night Football game against the Miami Dolphins last November 11.
Brooks' Ring induction will come during a game against the same team he stunned with a game-clinching pick-six almost exactly 12 years earlier, during the Bucs' Super Bowl run. The defending NFC Champions visited Raymond James Stadium in Week Three of that 2002 campaign and were mounting a fourth-quarter rally behind prolific quarterback Kurt Warner, with Brooks sidelined at the time by a hamstring strain. When fellow linebacker Shelton Quarles also had to leave the game with an injury, Brooks famously inserted himself back into the game without asking the coaches and almost immediately returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown. Knowing the Bucs' 26-14 victory was final in hand, Brooks simply continued running through the end zone and into the tunnel on the way to the locker room training table.
LB Derrick Brooks played 14 seasons in the NFL without ever missing a game
That play was not the most iconic of Brooks' career – that would probably be his Super Bowl-capping pick-six – but it was a perfect illustration of what he meant to the franchise for 13 sublime years on the field. Brooks never missed a single game during those 13 seasons, and he hardly ever missed a play. Even on a day such as that one early in 2002, when it seemed like the Bucs would have to finish out a game without him, he was still right where his team needed him to be at the most critical moment.
That play against the Rams was also one of four touchdowns Brooks scored that season, and eight in his career, including the playoffs. He is the only linebacker in the history of the NFL ever to score four or more touchdowns in a single season.
Obviously, Brooks was a big-play machine, racking up 24 forced fumbles and 25 career interceptions (the latter a huge number for a linebacker), but he was also a rock-solid technician who always knew exactly where he should be and usually got there. Brooks' 2,148 career tackles are the most in team history, and only one other Buccaneer (Ronde Barber) has even half that number.
Brooks was the 28th pick of the first round in the 1995 draft, a round he shared with Sapp, who went 12th overall. The Buccaneers moved up and back with a series of trades to make those two picks, eventually jumping back into the bottom of the first when Brooks fell farther than expected. The NFL was still awash in the Levon Kirkland-type of big linebacker, and there was a perception at the time that Brooks was a bit undersized for the position. Instead, thanks in no small part to the arrival of Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin in his second season, Brooks helped redefine the weakside linebacker position, using his speed, range and instincts to make play after play.
Not only was Brooks big enough for the position, he was also more than tough enough. He played in all 224 games for which the Buccaneers lined up from 1995-2008, and he started 221 of them. Brooks is one of only 31 players in the history of the NFL who have made that many starts. Along the way, he checked nearly every box one would look for on the resume of a Hall of Fame defender. He went to 11 Pro Bowls (even winning game MVP honors in 2005) and was named Associated Press All-Pro first team five times. He was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, joining Sapp and Selmon as the only three Bucs ever to win that honor. And, of course, he held the Lombardi Trophy in his hands at the end of that '02 campaign.
That put Brooks into an elite NFL fraternity, as one of only six players in NFL history to earn a Defensive Player of the Year award, win a Super Bowl and be named to at least seven consecutive Pro Bowls. Sapp is also on that short list and all six – also including Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Greene and Jack Lambert – are now in the Hall of Fame.
Brooks was also the co-winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2000, which may have been the most prestigious honor bestowed upon him during his playing days. The Man of the Year award recognizes players who are singularly impactful both on and off the field, and its list of winners reads like a who's who in NFL history, from original honoree Johnny Unitas in 1970 to George Blanda, John Elway, Junior Seau, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and, of course, Payton himself. In 2003, Brooks also received the Byron "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year Award, which focuses on a player's contributions to the community.
Brooks was well known for his ambitious community work long before he hung up his cleats. His "Brooks' Bunch" programs were known for expansive trips that provided incredible incentive to students to excel in the classroom and in their own community work, taking groups all across the country and even to Africa. The scope of Brooks' vision has only grown larger since he finished his playing career, as evidenced by the thriving Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School in Tampa, which recently hosted an event that even drew NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to town.
Brooks will be honored for all of that and more on September 14, in front of an adoring home crowd at Raymond James Stadium. As for the visiting Rams, they will likely be pleased that Brooks' appearance on the field comes during halftime; none of Tampa Bay's opponents wishes to see him on the other side of the line of scrimmage ever again. As perhaps the greatest player in franchise history and, moreover, one of the top performers in league annals, both on and off the field, Brooks is this year's choice for the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium. The obvious choice. The only choice.
@ScottSBucs not even a debate Derrick Brooks— Mohak (@mohakt2) May 2, 2014
@ScottSBucs definitely has to be Derrick Brooks. Can't see anyone else being named this season other than a guy who is going to the HOF— Mike Riccardi (@Mike_Riccardi5) May 2, 2014
@ScottSBucs Really,Scott.... come on man!!! Lol— PJ (@pjmaster25) May 2, 2014