The real greatness of Derrick Brooks
Derrick Brooks has won a Super Bowl, been named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, selected to 11 Pro Bowls and is a virtual lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But on Monday, Brooks handed out diplomas to the first graduating class from Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School -- with all 16 accepted to college. It may well have been Brooks' greatest accomplishment.
"This is way more than I envisioned,'' Brooks said. "It's beyond my wildest dreams.''
It was appropriate that the commencement speaker was former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy.
Before each season, Dungy would tell his teams that if they won games but failed to contribute to the community, they would not be successful.
Dungy, who retired from coaching earlier this year, turned down more pretigious and lucrative speaking engagements Monday to address the students at BDCHS, fulfilling a promise he made to Brooks two years ago.
Dungy told graduates not to be too concerned with what they were going to do with their lives but to focus on what kind of person they want to be. And he encouraged them to be uncommon, not follow the crowd and "don't leave God out of it.''
Several times Monday, Brooks wiped away tears. Since the first time he handed two Bucs game tickets to children ("also because we didn't have that many fans at the time'), his focus has been to provide opportunity and education for the youth in Tampa Bay. He's accomplished this in a variety of ways, but never more directly or more impactful than developing the charter school with the family of former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo.
Brooks, 36, was released in Feb., by the Bucs after 14 years. He still spends several hours each morning working out in preparation to play a 15th NFL season.
Training camps will open in another six or seven weeks and Brooks still is a man without a team. Like Dungy, he has more opportunity outside of football than he ever anticipated and his calender is full.
If Brooks finds the right opportunity to continue his career, he will consider it. If the New England Patriots called tomorrow, with a chance to be part of another Super Bowl contender, it might be too great to resist.
But watching Brooks and Dungy Monday, their place in NFL history already secure, it's obvious that the true greatness of these men will never be defined by statistics or Super Bowl rings.
If you thought Brooks has had a great career in football, just wait until you see what he does with the rest of his life.