He was going to bob. He was going to weave. He was going to add one more chapter to the Greatest Show on Turf.
Yeah, this was going to be fun. Torry Holt was going to catch a pass, and he was going hit a seam, and he was going to change the scoreboard. By golly, he was going to dance.
Then trouble happened.
Then Derrick Brooks happened.
Suddenly, the whole world blew up. Holt's head flew backward, and there was a loud crack, like a lightning bolt hitting a large tree. Holt rumbled to the turf with his rib cage screaming. The star receiver was in pain.
A scary amount of pain. He started to cough, and blood came up. A scary amount of blood.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what it was like to get hit by Brooks.
To sum it up: It was a lot like getting run over by a sports car.
There have been bigger linebackers than Brooks, linebackers who mauled a receiver when the opportunity presented itself. There have been stronger linebackers, and certainly meaner ones. But force equals mass times acceleration, remember?
So, yeah, there were times when a Bucs tackler would hit an opponent, and you wouldn't have to look to see who the tackler was. If the feet went straight up, and if the helmet snapped quickly backward, then you knew Brooks had left another bruise.
"He doesn't get a lot of credit for being a big hitter," former teammate and cornerback Ronde Barber said. "I don't know that I necessarily paid attention until I started watching his highlights and old game film. He was such a solid tackler. When he got to his ideal weight, when he put together those angles and that speed and that athleticism, he could destroy people."
Holt, for instance. Fifteen years later, he might still have a bruise.
It was in the 1999 NFC Championship Game. The Rams, the best offense of the era, were playing the Bucs, the best defense. Holt went over the middle to catch a pass, and Brooks hit him with a shot hard enough to register on the Richter scale.
"When I started spitting up blood, I was a little shaky," Holt later told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I didn't know what was going on, but I knew something wasn't right. I was a little shaken up and a little scared."
Barber thinks about the play, and he starts to laugh softly. Yeah, it's a violent game.
"I was on the other side of the field, and I heard it," Barber said. "It was like a .22. It was a perfect hit. It was like a gun went off."
That was the thing with Brooks. He was as fast as any linebacker who ever played the game, and no one questions his leadership, and no one asks about his heart. But let's be honest. The guy was a linebacker. He hit like a linebacker. You won't find a lot of film of Brooks sliding off guys.
"A lot of them weren't the slobberknockers that leave someone with their feet flying up in the air," said former teammate and safety John Lynch. "But the best thing was that when he hit someone, they stopped.
"When he hit Torry, it was this big thud. And, boom, he went down. Derrick was letting Torry know, and the Rams know, and the rest of us know, that he was here for business."
Lynch knows. He and Brooks caught a bit of friendly fire from each other over the years. Once, Lynch suggested that the hits had about evened out. "Not quite," Brooks said, grinning.
The thing is, no one remembers that Brooks was a devastating hitter, perhaps because he was undersized, and perhaps because he had so many other attributes. There was his speed. There was his intelligence. There was his leadership. There were his instincts. There was his resiliency. There was his drive.
Alge Crumpler, the old Falcons tight end, tells a story about Brooks. It was in the 2004 season, which was a good one for Atlanta (11-5) and a poor one for the Bucs (5-11). In early November, Atlanta beat Tampa Bay 24-14. Crumpler had a huge day with four catches for 118 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown.
Three weeks later, the teams played again.
"I remember Ian Gold was playing linebacker and covering me," Crumpler said. "Derrick grabbed him and walked him toward the middle of the field. 'Here. You play here.' And that was it for me."
That day, Crumpler caught one pass for 5 yards. The Bucs won 27-0.
"It was almost as if he was in our huddle," Crumpler said. "He had great instincts. And I never saw him miss a tackle."
He didn't miss many. He could make a running back's eyes bulge, and a wide receiver's arms shorten, and a quarterback's courage fade.
Just ask Warrick Dunn, who was his teammate with the Bucs and at Florida State, and his opponent with the Falcons.
"I wasn't going to let him hit me," Dunn said, laughing. "I wouldn't give him that satisfaction. Because he was an artist. If he put the pads on you, you were going to feel it."
The next play?
You were going to feel it again.
"A lot of them weren't the slobberknockers that leave someone with their feet flying up in the air. But the best thing was that when he hit someone, they stopped.''
Former Bucs safety John Lynch