Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Fans Name Brooks Team MVP

For the fourth time in just eight seasons as a Buccaneer, LB Derrick Brooks is named team MVP in a fan-chosen award presented at the Tampa Sports Club Banquet

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LB Derrick Brooks, named team MVP by the Tampa Sports Club on Friday, capped an amazing 2002 season with a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVII

In 2002, the football nation realized just how good Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks is. Tampa Bay's Super Bowl victory and his own incredible string of big plays combined to earn Brooks NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors, an incredibly prestigious award won just twice before in Bucs history.

Of course, fans in Tampa have been clued in to Brooks' prowess for some time. On Friday night, during the 42nd Annual Tampa Sports Club Banquet, sponsored by The Tampa Tribune, Brooks was named the Buccaneers' 2002 Most Valuable Player, as chosen by a fan vote. This is the fourth time Brooks has won this award in his eight Tampa Bay seasons.

During the regular season, Brooks led the Bucs in tackles for the sixth time in the last seven years and scored four defensive touchdowns. The first linebacker in league history to return three interceptions for scores in the same season, Brooks capped his magical 2002 campaign with another touchdown in the Bucs' 48-21 drubbing of Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Accordingly, Brooks, Head Coach Jon Gruden and the entire Bucs team were honored Friday by the Tampa Sports Club for an unforgettable 2002 season that ended in the franchise's first World Championship. And, while Brooks and company have received a lot of praise and awards since September, it is the appreciation of the home town fans that strikes nearest to the heart.

Brooks was the first Buc honored on this festive evening. The announcement of his MVP selection was greeted with a rousing round of applause that turned into a standing ovation as the six-time Pro Bowler approached the podium. As the ovation reached full tilt, several audience members began mimicking a popular commercial by chanting, "Who's your favorite player?, Mr. Derrick Brooks!"

As Brooks accepted the award, he thanked the audience members for their kindness and humbly spread the recognition to the rest of his team.

"Whenever I get the chance to be honored, it's much bigger than me," said Brooks. "This is a tribute to my teammates and how much you guys support us. This is truly an honor and thank you again."

Brooks, who received the same award in 1996 and 1998 and shared it with DT Warren Sapp in 1999, encouraged the fans to move past the Bucs' Super Bowl victory and focus on the upcoming 2003 season, going so far as to set a date for everyone to pack the memories away.

"I don't want to throw water on anybody's celebration, but we want to do this again," said Brooks. "In order to do that, we have to shut the door on this season and that's going top be tough. But I'm challenging the fans, along with myself, on March 23rd, when we start our offseason, that we shut the door on this season and get ready to do it even better next season."

Brooks left the podium to another chorus of cheers but didn't get to remain in his seat for long. With Gruden in Indianapolis for the annual NFL Scouting Combine, Brooks was asked to accept the Florida Sports Personality Award on behalf of the charismatic head coach.

The Florida Sports Personality Award is given to the person, organization or team that has made a contribution, achieved a goal or performed in such a way as to bring pride, recognition and values to sports and the Tampa community. Brooks accepted Gruden's award but declined to imitate his coach's fiery mannerisms.

"I can't do the Chucky face, I can't do any of that," he said. "But as only Coach Gruden could say, 'Enjoy the moment, but out there is a big goal and that's repeating.'"

The Tampa Sports Club also had a short video acceptance from Gruden to mark the occasion. Gruden expressed his regrets about being accepted and claimed it was a bit of a surprise pick, given the number of, uh, personalities already on the Buccaneers' roster.

"We have a lot of personalities on our team here in Tampa," said Gruden in his taped acceptance. "Keyshawn Johnson, Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber...and even though Brad Johnson doesn't have a lot of personality, this award means a great deal to me and thanks again."

The Buccaneers as a team were also presented with a special framed photo from the Super Bowl and given the Tampa Bay Sports Club's Special Award.

The Special Award is given to a person or organization that has made a contribution, achieved a goal or performed in such a way as to bring pride, recognition and values to sports and the Tampa community.

As the evening came to a close, Brooks once again reminded the fans of his March 23rd cut off date.

Until then, however, feel free to celebrate.

* Also honored at the Tampa Bay Sports Club's 42nd Annual Awards Banquet were Phil Esposito and Tony LaRussa, who were both inducted into the Tampa Sports Hall of Fame. Beth Bauer was named Outstanding Professional for her accomplishments on the LPGA Tour. Aubrey Huff and Nikolai Khabibulin, were named the MVP's for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Tampa Bay Lightning, respectively. Jefferson High School QB/WR Andre Caldwell received the Outstanding Amateur Male Athlete Award, while Riverview High School softball pitcher Beth DiPietro received the Outstanding Amateur Female Athlete Award. USF football was honored as the Outstanding Boys Team Award, with the Tampa Bay Little League 13-14 Jr. All-Stars receiving the Outstanding Girls Team Award honors. Finally, receiving recognition along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Special Award category was USF Football Coach Jim Leavitt.

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