Monday, June 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Next up for Bucs' Ring of Honor? Mr. Derrick Brooks

This one is easy.

This time, you open up Raymond James Stadium, and you invite Derrick Brooks inside forever. This time, you escort him to the 50-yard line, and you look upward, and you ask him where he wants his number to live. This time, the only hard part is to come up with new adjectives to praise him.

Later, it gets tricky. Later, it gets loud. But for today, the Bucs have a gimme putt when it comes to adding the latest name to their Ring of Honor.

Today, it's Brooks, and who can quibble with that?

Today, it's No. 55, the guy who was always in charge of tackles for the Bucs. Today, it's the guy who ran down Michael Vick, who smothered Marshall Faulk, who closed out Rich Gannon. Today, we recognize the quiet fire that always burned inside of him.

You want to know how best to describe Brooks' greatness? Think of all of the wonderful players on that Bucs defense in those years. Think of all the healthy egos of Warren Sapp and John Lynch and Ronde Barber and Simeon Rice and the rest. Now ask a simple question: Would the best of you please step forward? There would be only one answer. Every guy would have waited for Brooks to step first. Every guy.

Yeah, it has to be Brooks, right? Sometimes, getting the answer right is better than any surprise. Last year, in the year he was elected to the Hall of Fame, it was Sapp. This year, in the year he has been elected to the Hall of Fame, it figures to be Brooks. Of course it is. Otherwise, the Ring would not be complete.

Which is more impressive? That those who admired Brooks will say he is the best Buc player of all time? Or that those who question him will say he's only second? He was fast. He was lethal. He was relentless.

Why is this important? Why should a Hall of Fame-bound player be concerned about a Ring of Honor?

That's easy. How many people get to Canton? It isn't exactly a town you happen past.

Ah, but a Ring of Honor is seen every game by those who watched you the closest, by those who admired you the most. A Ring of Honor is where the next generation of players, and the ones after that, look to the sky in search of players to emulate. A Ring of Honor surrounds the field where you did your heavy work.

Ah, but who comes after Brooks?

To some degree, that depends on the Hall of Fame, which will consider Lynch and Tony Dungy again next year. If either of those two breaks through, then he'll be the guy. And he'll deserve it.

Ah, but what if they don't?

Oh, there are a few candidates left. There will be some who argue for Tony Mayberry, who made the Pro Bowl three times as a center. There will be those who argue for Monte Kiffin, the old defensive coordinator. There will be those who argue for Brad Johnson, who had the best season of any Buc quarterback. Or Rice. Or James Wilder. Or Ricky Bell. Or Batman Wood.

That said, there seem to be seven more consensus choices after Brooks.

And here goes:

1. Doug Williams, quarterback: Frankly, it's a little surprising that Williams isn't in the Ring already, considering what he meant to those early playoff teams of the Bucs. Could it be that the team is a little nervous about what Williams might say? Regardless, he needs to be included soon.

2. John Lynch, safety: Let the voters of the Hall of Fame argue about him there. Here, he is an easy choice. He was one of the biggest hitters in the game, a fierce, prideful player who would get irked whenever there were too many questions asked about the firepower of the opposing offense.

3. Tony Dungy, coach: No, Dungy never won a Super Bowl here. But he did forge the team that had the finest era in team history. Yes, he was quiet. Yes, he was calm. But it's hard to argue that Dungy is the most important coach the Bucs ever had.

4. Ronde Barber, cornerback: Barber is a little low on the list because his career was so recent — he retired after the 2012 season. But if you're talking about complete ballplayers, you can't do without him. There has never been a more instinctive player than Barber. And no one ever made a bigger play than his interception return in the NFC title game.

5. Mike Alstott, fullback: No, he never had a 1,000-yard rushing season. But fans loved Alstott. No one represented effort any better than he did. Even today, ask a Bucs fan who he'd rather see with the ball on third and 1. Yeah, Alstott will fit in just fine when he's inducted.

6. Hardy Nickerson, linebacker: Brooks was so brilliant that some people forget just how good Nickerson was before him. He made five Pro Bowls, and he helped to change the culture around One Buc.

7. Jon Gruden, coach: Forget the drama that came later. Gruden is the only coach who has ever won a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay. That alone justifies his election. Remember this about Gruden: He could coach. It was his reliance on veterans, and the team's inability to draft, that caught up to him.

These are the men who have kept Tampa Bay sane. Oh, we are all aware that there have been times this franchise has been a cartoon with Booker Reese and Keith McCants and Eric Curry and Charles McRae and Jack Thompson and the rest. That's the reason a Ring of Honor is so important here. It reminds people that, every now and then, football has happened.

Yeah, it would be nice if it happened again.

And here's a thought: Wouldn't it be nice if a current player or two would add to the list of candidates?

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