TAMPA — The coincidence was mentioned several times Wednesday: The Bucs’ famed No. 55 will play an instrumental role in Super Bowl 55 in Tampa.
Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks is co-chairman of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee charged with organizing the city’s fifth Super Bowl, to be held in February 2021. He is a proven leader. He has a Super Bowl ring and a gold jacket to show for his on-field success.
He’s still admittedly very competitive, so as he took to the podium inside Raymond James Stadium during an event to unveil the committee’s logo Wednesday, he said he wants to make Super Bowl 55 “the best possible ever.”
In many ways — especially in the eyes of sports fans — Brooks will be the face of Super Bowl 55. The Pensacola native and Florida State graduate who spent his entire 14-year career with the Bucs will let others talk about the financial impact, filling hotel rooms and the bay area shining on a global stage.
Brooks, 46, will talk about legacy, how one of the world’s most-followed sporting events can leave a social impact on the Tampa Bay area in 2021 and beyond.
“Some people might think of (Brooks’) name being involved as ceremonial in nature, but I can promise you that he has rolled up his sleeves,” said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, and president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee. “He’s in the meetings. He’s helping direct traffic, and he has been absolutely phenomenal.
“That work started more than a year ago and will continue over the next 17 months and beyond. We’re so fortunate to have his leadership, his work ethic, everything he brings to the table.”
Brooks first became curious about what it takes to put on a Super Bowl before Tampa hosted the game in 2001, bending the ear of late Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer about the intricacies of hosting such an event. Brooks also remembers Tony Dungy emphasizing in his first team meeting as Bucs coach in 1996 the lasting impact sports can have on communities.
“I’ve been blown away by, in meetings, how (Brooks) will sit back, listen and usually toward the end, he’ll bring an idea that I’ll be kicking myself for not coming up with,” Higgins said. “The perspective he’s brought from not only a player but a community leader has been phenomenal.”
Former state House of Representatives speaker Will Weatherford is the committee’s other co-chairman. But Weatherford said he’s content deferring to Brooks.
“I plan on spending the next 16 or 17 months carrying his helmet and pads around,” Weatherford said. “You grow up as a kid and your favorite player on the Florida State Seminoles is Derrick Brooks, your favorite player on the Tampa Bay Bucs years later is Derrick Brooks, and one day you get to co-chair a Super Bowl with Derrick Brooks? That’s what dreams are made of.”
Said Bucs owner/co-chairman Bryan Glazer: “It’s extremely important for someone like Derrick to be involved, especially in this community where we’re going to need tens of thousands of volunteers, and he’s a great leader and a great people person for our fans and all of the community to look up towards and get involved with.”
Off-the-field involvement is where Brooks believes he can make the most impact. His post-playing career investment is in education, co-founding Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School with the Edward J. DeBartolo family in 2005.
“This pulls at my heartstrings in terms of what I believe in as a core, and that’s our community,” Brooks said. “Where can we give back? Where does this imprint of this Super Bowl really show the true measures? The true measure in my heart is in the community, to show social impact that we’re going to be obligated, not just to fulfill but to leave the best legacy possible along with the other prior 54 Super Bowls, and we’ve had a good taste of that.”
In the fall the committee will unveil its Forever 55 social initiative, which will focus on youth education, said Brooks, who is heavily involved in the initiative’s planning — and who jokingly insists he had no say in the name. Brooks pointed to the impact that Tampa Bay hosting the College Football Playoff championship game in 2017 made. The region benefited from a College Football Playoff Foundation $1 million grant through the Extra Yard for Teachers program, then received another $200,000 the following year.
“I’ve always seen the Super Bowl as a stage to serve the community at a bigger level,” Brooks said.
Brooks offered motivation to the community leaders, politicians, business people and partners present at Wednesday’s event.
“There’s a lot of hard work moving forward, but I believe in team,” he said. “The simple acronym for team is Together Everybody Achieves More. We’re going to have to be motivated, and my motivation is synonymous with this saying here. Motivation is like taking a bath or a shower. You do it every day or you stink.”
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Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.