TAMPA — One evening in November while sitting alone at home in his office, Derrick Brooks realized he would never play football again.
"In my mind, I was kind of retired at that moment," Brooks said.
His 14-year career with the Bucs had ended about nine months earlier, when general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris informed the linebacker he would be released along with four other veterans.
On Thursday, wearing a tan suit and surrounded by family and former teammates, Brooks returned to One Buc Place to allow the team to symbolically mend some fences.
Brooks had officially announced his retirement a day earlier on his website. But in a ceremony befitting their 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker, who played only in Tampa Bay, the Bucs held a news conference in their spacious meeting room.
They presented Brooks' wife, Carol, with a bouquet of red roses. Brooks spoke from a podium adorned with a lockerlike nameplate, and longtime play-by-play announcer Gene Deckerhoff introduced highlights celebrating the career of No. 55, arguably the greatest player in franchise history.
"Derrick Brooks is a name that is synonymous with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers," Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer said. "In the modern era, it is all too rare for one athlete to wear one uniform for their entire career. Derrick did just that. From our 1995 opening day victory over the Eagles (Brooks' rookie season) to the Super Bowl victory (in the 2002 season), it's been quite a ride."
Thursday's event was in stark contrast to Brooks' appearance at One Buc Place in February 2009 after his release, when he said he was disappointed with the process that had led to the end of his career in Tampa Bay.
Brooks pursued playing last season. He had a workout with the Saints and was contacted by the Bears, among others. But those teams failed to meet his private list of criteria.
"When I'm up here saying I've played my last days, my word is my word," Brooks said. "I have."
The Pensacola native and Florida State standout thanked his family, teammates and coaches, starting with legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden, whom he credits with keeping his priorities straight: faith, family and football. Of Seminoles defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, he said, "If you had another ounce to give, he wanted it."
Brooks credited former Bucs coach Sam Wyche with drafting a "linebacker that most said was too small coming out of college to play the position." And he said former coach Tony Dungy's call to community service shaped his life off the field and prompted such endeavors as the Brooks Bunch, a charitable foundation for youths, and Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School, a charter school in Hillsborough County.
He said he began valuing education in the fifth grade when his father whipped him for being a class clown.
"He gave me a whipping right there with a belt. You do that today, you go to jail," Brooks said. "I thank him that he loved me enough to do it, because I was a class clown. I was a serious distraction in the fifth grade. That's kind of when the priority began to be set that it was academics over athletics, period."
Brooks is the third member of the nucleus of the Bucs' dominating late 1990s-early 2000s defense to retire since 2008, joining Warren Sapp and John Lynch. Cornerback Ronde Barber, the only active player from the Bucs' Super Bowl team, attended Thursday.
Brooks believes he, Sapp and Lynch could be worthy of enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he doesn't regard his likely election as a sure thing.
"You don't catch those (chickens) until they hatch," Brooks said. "If you build up that anticipation figuring you're entitled to something, this business has a way of humbling you. All the way up to the Hall of Fame, you can still be humbled. … I really don't feel that entitlement. You appreciate it when it comes."