While serving as honorary captain for the Bravest Football Club of the FDNY, Bucs LB Shelton Quarles gets lost in a sea of helmets and brotherhood
The Bravest Football Club took its name upon the team's inception in 1973. It was appropriate then and is now for a club consisting of New York City firefighters, men who selflessly put their lives on the line to save others.
Never was this more evident than on September 11, 2001. The losses to New York's Fire, Police and Emergency Response units on that day were overwhelming. The Bravest lost 22 members of their team that day - seven starters, 13 alumni and two coaches laid down their lives in rescue attempts.
So when the Bravest Football Club came to Florida on Saturday, April 20 for a game against the Orlando Guardians, a team made up of Orlando public service officers, it was playing for more than the thrill of competition. The members of the FDNY were playing in memory of their fallen brothers.
The game was a part of the National Public Safety Football League (NPSFL), which is a union of public safety agency football teams from throughout the United States, united to promote a positive self-image to the public by raising funds for charity through spirited competition.
At the game, the FDNY team had a special honorary captain, Buccaneers LB Shelton Quarles. Quarles, whose birthday is September 11th, was honored to be the captain of the FDNY squad.
"It's great just to see the guys out there and playing," said Quarles. "Knowing what they've had to deal with it is special for me to share this with them."
The FDNY team, which came to Orlando on Thursday and left on Sunday, brought some special visitors with them for a mini-vacation in Florida. "We lost 22 guys and we have about 12 of their families down here with us," said Team President Neil Walsh. "It's something great we could do for them. It hurts not to see their boys out there, but at least we can provide some smiles. We know we're doing the right thing for them."
The players and families spent the days before the game enjoying the sights and sounds of Universal Studios and Sea World.
"The people in Orlando are absolutely great," said Walsh. "Sea World and Universal Studios both gave us all free passes and the Westgate gave us all free rooms. We thank them so much."
On the football field however, the Orlando Guardians weren't quite as hospitable as they had been earlier in the week. The Guardians took a 7-0 lead on a 26-yard touchdown pass with 8:54 left in the first. An eight-yard TD pass 10 minutes later, gave them a commanding 14-0 lead.
Thanks to a string of turnovers, the Bravest wasn't able to generate much offense for most of the game but, as is their tradition, the team would not give up.
With 23 seconds left before halftime, the Bravest finally broke through, scoring on a two-yard TD pass, before missing the extra point to make the score 14-6.
At the half, Quarles was impressed by what he had seen from the two teams. "There's a lot more hitting than I thought there was going to be," said the Bucs' new starter at middle linebacker. "It's pretty fun to see those guys out there playing. It makes me want play a little bit. I was trying to coach a little bit to help the guys out."
Quarles' advice seemed to help as the FDNY defense shut out the Guardians in the second half. Offense, however, remained a struggle.
The game went back and forth during the second half, until the FDNY special teams came up big, blocking a punt that was recovered for a touchdown with 4:30 left in the game. With the score 14-12, the Bravest needed to go for two.
The FDNY ran the option left, but were denied in their efforts to tie the game. However, the defense the held the Guardians to a three-and-out, giving the ball back to the Bravest with 2:30 left on the clock.
As the Bravest drove down the field and into Guardians territory, it looked promising for the New York squad. In the end, however, the turnover bug bit the Bravest one final time, as the Guardians intercepted the ball at their own two-yard line with just over one minute.
The loss did not dampen the spirits of the players or the families.
"This is a bit of fresh air for the guys," said Walsh. "And it makes them really feel good that they can take care of the families of their brothers that lost their lives."
Brooks Honored Again
Last Wednesday, another Buccaneer linebacker, five-time Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks, was honored for his community work, as he received a prestigious EDDIE Award from the Hillsborough Education Foundation. Brooks was honored for going above and beyond the norm in his educational efforts with the children in his Brooks' Brunch program. His dedication to that program recently brought him another award, as well.
On his trip to Africa in 2000 with 20 kids from local Boys & Girls Clubs as part of that Brooks' Brunch program, Brooks was given an African name - Donkor Kamau. The name means "Quiet, Humble Warrior." For many, that is all that needs to be said about Brooks, the 29 year-old NFL veteran who has touched the lives of hundreds of different kids throughout the Bay area.
On Wednesday, April 4, the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) awarded Derrick Brooks the highest honor that they can bestow on an individual, naming him a Silver Medallion recipient at their Humanitarian Awards banquet.
The NCCJ is a human relations organization dedicated to fighting bias, bigotry and racism. NCCJ promotes understanding and respect among all races, religions and cultures through advocacy, conflict resolution and education.
At the banquet, Brooks was introduced by Otis Cooper, a young man who was able to join Derrick and the "Brooks' Bunch" on the 2000 trip to South Africa and the 2001 trip to the American West. Cooper's introduction left no doubt about the impact that Brooks has had on his life and the lives of many others. "Derrick has been a big part of my life," said Cooper. "I've been able to go on the trips to Africa and the trip out West because of him."
Cooper shared some of his experiences from the trip to Africa, where the group, he said, shared "fun, laughs and love."
The articulate youngster also went on to discuss his experiences during the Wild West trip, speaking of the majesty of standing above the Grand Canyon and looking out into one of the greatest wonders of the world.
Cooper's closing sentiments, though, were the ones that touched all in attendance.
"Without Derrick I would never had left the United States and seen where my people have come from," said an awestruck Cooper. "Derrick is an inspirator, motivator and dedicator."
Brooks, as is his nature, spoke of others and the help that they have provided him during his speech. "I'm just glad that all these kids could be a part of God's mission for me," he said.
Brooks also addressed how he became involved with the Belmont Heights Boys & Girls Club.
"I was visiting several places and trying to figure out what my role would be in the community," he said. "I had stopped by this club one day, and as I was leaving a young girl asked me 'Are you coming back?' I went back the next day because I wanted to set a positive example for the kids."
Brooks may travel the world with his Brooks' Bunch, but he knows he can't solve every problem for every kid. What he can do is lend an ear and show the kids that people care. "A lot of these kids just need someone to listen to them and what they're going through," he said. "I've been there and know what they are going through. I just try to provide them with simple advice and a respect for authority."
After describing his experiences with the kids, Brooks defined what the "Brooks' Bunch" is truly about. "I have been given an opportunity to change their lives," he said. "Now, they can go out an change someone else's."
Bobby Wilds, the Assistant to the President of the Tampa Boys & Girls Clubs, summed up Brooks' contributions in one word: hope.
"Derrick has showed kids that you can succeed," said Wilds. "Most of the kids he worked with probably never thought of going to college before he showed them they could succeed. Now, the majority of the kids he has worked with are on their way to college or planning to go. Derrick has provided that hope."
What else would you expect from Donkor Kamau?