LB Derrick Brooks was like a kid in a candy store Sunday as he soaked in his new professional surroundings
Derrick Brooks has heard the talk before.
He may have spent his entire NFL career on the same team, in the same locker room and the same meeting rooms, but others have come and gone during his decade-plus with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Players who had spent time at previous league outposts would speak fondly of a posh dining room here or a spacious team auditorium there. Brooks would overhear bits of conversation about expansive weight rooms and comfortable team lounges.
He would hear all this…and try not to hear it.
"They talked about these things, so I tried not to let it affect me," he said, not wishing to think about what he didn't have at the Bucs' aging and far-too-small headquarters, One Buccaneer Place. Brooks wanted no excuse to produce lesser results.
Even when the Buccaneers broke ground on what was promised to be the best training facility in all of professional sports, Brooks tried to keep it out of his mind and, more importantly, out of his heart, the seat of his desire.
"I fought every desire I had in my body to not come by and look at it," said Brooks. "I think I only drove by once, and that was by accident. But I must be honest, I've looked forward to seeing it. I actually anticipated it. I kept telling my wife, 'The new facility, I can't wait to see it.'"
Brooks will wait no longer.
On Sunday, the Buccaneers' new facility officially opened for business – the business of building a winning football team – and Brooks was one of the first members of the organization to get a grand tour.
It was almost too much to believe, too much input for Brooks to assimilate in one day. After more than 11 years spent toiling at "The Woodshed," Brooks has walked into a palace of incredible dimensions and quality.
"I am still trying to soak it in," said Brooks, standing amid the weight-training machines in the place's 16,000-square-foot workout room. "I would still be walking around the building if I didn't have to come here to talk, to be honest with you. I want to be able to take advantage of everything, from the training room to the rehab that is going to be available to us.
"I mean, look at this weight room. It has a feel, the feel of a champion."
That's a theme Brooks repeated frequently. It starts with the simple matter of having a place to display the franchise's Super Bowl XXXVII trophy to the world, but goes well beyond that to the myriad ways the complex will improve the team's ability to chase additional championships. Brooks talked about attracting free agents, about building team camaraderie and about simply working more efficiently. He noted the little touches, like film-watching rooms and a posh players' lounge, that will keep the Bucs around the building longer, and he admitted that he didn't even recognize some of the gleaming new machines in the weight room.
All of these sights made him even more determined to import the outstanding work ethic the Bucs were able to build while housed at the comparatively tiny One Buccaneer Place.
"Anything that we can desire to want to make you a better football player, make us a better team, a better staff, from a coach's standpoint, is available to us," said Brooks. "Our owners, they went all out. I think a championship atmosphere and a championship work ethic is what they had in mind in building this and we have to do our part in delivering."
Gruden, who helped hone that work ethic and was the one who hung "The Woodshed" nickname on One Buccaneer Place, also got a welcoming tour on Sunday…early in the morning, of course. Not long after, he and his coaching staff were hard at work, like every day during the season. The new facility was ready to house that work, and that was one of the things that truly impressed the head coach.
"They put this together in a year," marveled Gruden. "Most of these facilities take three or four years to get done. But the working power, the working force that got this done was unbelievable. We're in full operation in terms of football. The rest of the building itself probably won't be ready for a month or so but we're fully ready to service the football players and get ready for this regular season. So it was quite exciting, there's no question about it."
Gruden recognized the same possibilities for improvement that floored Brooks. He gave rave reviews to the training room, the rehab equipment, the weight room and the meeting rooms.
"We didn't have any of this in One Buc Place," said Gruden. "It's an endless, endless opportunity for a football player to max out and be as good as he can become. And I think it will help build camaraderie and unity and it will entice a lot of people to want to play here and be around here because it's conducive to getting better. And you'll see for yourself, it's off the charts.
"No one's going to be making fun of our facility any more. This is one of the great days in Buccaneer history as far as I'm concerned. To be able to come into a facility like this is tremendous. It gives us every reason to look forward to coming to work, and lifting weights, and being a part of this organization year round. I am very appreciative of our owners. Their generosity and their vision obviously speaks for itself. I don't believe this is the best facility in the NFC or in pro football or in the United States – it's as a good a place as there is in the world. And we plan to take advantage of it."
The team will invade its new home in full shortly, but Sunday was officially a player's day off; the first practice at the new facility will be conducted on Monday morning. After meeting the press, Brooks almost grudgingly left his new home, making a very short walk out to his special parking spot.
At least, he thinks it's his spot. It was one of five marked as "Team Captain," and the team hasn't elected its captains yet in 2006. But Brooks, obviously, was a captain in 2005 and he decided to take a little leeway with the parking situation. The marked space brought a smile to his face, the first of many on the day.
"A lot of little stuff like that I am going to appreciate over time," he said. "My initial reaction was a sense of appreciation and a real big thank you to our owners. I can't wait to see them here in the next week to personally thank them for believing in this organization and this team and this vision."