A day in the life of Derrick Brooks

Published Jul. 30, 2014

Derrick Brooks was going to jail. He would drive himself there, but the uniformed Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies would be waiting for him at the correctional facility on Orient Road. He knew the way. Past the barbed wired fence, right at the first dirt road and through the secured door at the building on the left. It was 9:30 in the morning when Brooks, the former Bucs linebacker who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, surrendered to authorities. Inside the cramped room, the interrogation began. Thirty-one seniors-to-be, selected by their high schools to participate in the Sheriff's Rising Star's Leadership Academy, were seated and eagerly awaiting the advice and inspiration from, arguably, the greatest athlete in Tampa Bay history.

"I'm blessed you guys have allowed me to share your most valuable resource, and that's your time," Brooks said. "Time is our most valuable resource because, one, you don't know how much of it you have. God only knows. We can show the value of that by what we do with it and the decisions we make.''

Brooks, 41, keeps time with the precision of a Swiss watch. He writes down every appointment because "when you do that, you own it."

And Brooks' time has never been more valuable. On a typical day, he runs from sunup until well past sundown, pursuing his calendar the way he chased quarterbacks, tackling each day with inexhaustible energy.

Try keeping up with Brooks for one day — if you dare — and you feel like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland: "I'm overdue. I'm really in a stew. No time to say hello, goodbye. I'm late. I'm late. I'm late."

Take one page out of his day planner — June 9. Brooks arrives at his office as president of the Tampa Bay Storm at the Tampa Bay Times Forum at 8 a.m. After reviewing photographs of the Storm's win over Philadelphia two days earlier, weighing bids from two bowling centers for a team-building outing, confirming sponsorship commitments and meeting with Jeff Gooch, the Storm's vice president of football operations, it's off to the jail to speak to the Rising Stars' Academy until 10:30 a.m.

More football meetings then to Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School for a board meeting until 3 and a quick trip home to pick up his wife, Carol, and three of his four kids (his oldest daughter is at Florida Atlantic), who are dressed and waiting to accompany him to the Marriott World Center in Lake Buena Vista, where Brooks is being inducted into the College Football Academic Hall of Fame.

About 14 hours after he arrived at work, Brooks' day ends. Often, the routine includes a stop at the Carrollwood office of Derrick Brooks Charities, where he does his weekly show on Sirius NFL Radio and signs checks, footballs, pictures and nearly anything placed in front of him.

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"Obviously, my family schedule is No. 1," Brooks said. "But I'd be remiss if I didn't say how much I appreciate my wife, Carol, and her understanding that sometimes I get pulled in directions that may pull away from the family. As long as I don't cross that line too much, there's a balance. And when I do cross that line, it's not even a 'remind me.' It's let's get back in line.

"I don't depend on anyone else to put anything on my calendar. I put it on there because I own it. Very rarely do I break appointments. That's a coach Dungy-ism. When he came here, you got reprimanded more severely for breaking an appointment — whether it was with the media or with kids — than you did for missing a tackle on the field."

On Saturday, Brooks will become only the third Bucs player to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining Lee Roy Selmon (1995) and teammate Warren Sapp, whose bust entered the museum in Canton, Ohio, last year.

Sapp concedes Brooks was the best player on the defense that dominated the NFL during the late 1990s and early 2000s. The 11-time Pro Bowl player had his best season in 2002, leading the Bucs to their only Super Bowl victory.

He led Tampa Bay during the regular season with 170 tackles (117 solo). His seven interceptions included one in the division playoff game and one in the Super Bowl. And he scored five touchdowns, including one fumble return and the interception during the Super Bowl.

Yet Brooks never reveled in the accolades, including 2002 NFL defensive player of the year, and reputation as one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history.

If Sapp was the face of the Bucs, Brooks was its heart. His on-field accomplishments were dwarfed only by his community contributions. Coach Tony Dungy had the biggest influence in this area, and a lot of his players — including Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott and Hardy Nickerson — continue to make an imprint in the community.

But Brooks took it to another level. The genuineness of his character and performance on the field allowed him to gain the trust of the multiple personalities of the locker room.

"There's no hidden agenda," Brooks said. "My job was to keep things together when things are going bad and when things are going good. My teammates appreciated that I was consistent."

Brooks didn't inherit the leadership role easily. It didn't happen until Nickerson left after seven seasons in 2000, signing with the Jaguars.

"When Hardy left, we were still finding our way," Brooks said. "Our leadership was getting into the three-headed monster of John Lynch, Warren Sapp and myself. And Hardy was in Jacksonville when he made a comment that Tampa had no leadership.

"That was a moment … I was like, 'We've got plenty of leaders here. In fact, that question will get answered, and you won't have to ask it again.' "

Brooks played all 14 of his seasons for the Bucs. But when time ran out on his career, he wasn't prepared for the end. Not the way it went down.

Five weeks after becoming general manager, Mark Dominik called Brooks to a brief meeting with co-chairman Bryan Glazer and coach Raheem Morris to inform him he was being released with Dunn, receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard and linebacker Cato June.

"I think about this sometimes in my quiet hours. I never was granted that opportunity to really pass the leadership torch," Brooks said. "I realize my last year, it was the final year of my (contract) and everything could end differently than before. I begged, literally, to draft Geno (Hayes) and take a chance on this kid. … I would have had time to show Ronde (Barber) how his role would change from being a guy who was going to stay to himself to coming out of his shell until these guys get it.

"I just never felt I had that time to do it. It's not ironic that's one of the areas they struggled with for years. … There was more value to what I was willing to sacrifice and do. But we never had any dialogue."

Storm (and Lightning) owner Jeff Vinik valued that leadership when he hired Brooks as team president two years ago. He recognized Brooks knew nothing about the Arena Football League and had little administrative experience, but he was attracted by his leadership and brand.

"The first day on the job, I get three books listing everything we've purchased. It wasn't a manual of what to do," Brooks said. "But I think one of the key pieces I did early in writing down my goals in the first 90 days was hiring Gooch (a former Bucs teammate), somebody I trust more than anything else. And secondly, he understood my leadership skills.

"I didn't jump into the AFL when the AFL was in its glory days. I jumped into this product when it was coming out of bankruptcy. There was not a bright future (at the time). So my commitment to this product is bigger than people realize."

On this morning, Brooks is looking to build team unity with a bowling outing. The Storm had won three in a row (soon to be five) after a five-game skid, and Brooks was digging the turnaround under first-year coach Lawrence Samuels. Ultimately, Brooks wants to follow John Elway's path. The Hall of Fame quarterback was co-owner and CEO of the Arena League's Colorado Crush before joining the Broncos, where he now is general manager.

"John came into (the AFL) as an investor and owner; a face. Whereas with me, I was all in," Brooks said. "I've been presented with some of those opportunities in the NFL already, and I've said no. I've given my commitment to Mr. Vinik that I'm here. But if there was an opportunity that was bigger than that and I couldn't say no to, they understand that."

Brooks accepted such an opportunity Friday, agreeing to serve as one of two NFL appeal officers. In that role, which is not expected to affect his position with the Storm, Brooks will rule on appeals filed by players who have been fined by the league for on-field infractions — a position many see as a testament to the respect he has earned with both the league and players' union.

At 1:20, Brooks pulls up to the school he co-founded with former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo. The Hillsborough County charter school opened in the 2007-08 academic year in a converted Circuit City building on Fowler Avenue. The school struggled to fulfill its vision and at one point received a D grade from the state's department of education.

But a new 11-acre campus in Tampa, new principal in Kristine Bennett and the resourcefulness of DeBartolo, who fortified the board with members of his management team, has led to a dramatic turnaround. Brooks DeBartolo has four consecutive A's. All 68 graduates from this year's class were accepted into college and were awarded about $1.6 million in scholarships, not including Bright Futures.

The school, which opened with just more than 170 students, now has a waiting list and a lottery for enrollment. On this day, Brooks took part in a workshop with the board of directors. The topic is ethics. Board members are posed hypothetical questions and asked for yes-no responses. Brooks scores 100 percent.

But Brooks is not satisfied.

"Now we have a level of excellence we've got to maintain," he said. "We can't take it for granted. We've got to start every year and make that climb. That's what I learned in football; defending a Super Bowl championship. No, we are back at the bottom of the mountain, and we're climbing every year."

Dressed in a white suit and a printed garnet tie, Brooks and his family made the drive from Tampa on Interstate 4 and arrived 30 minutes early for the event at the Marriott World Center. Not only is education the foundation of Brooks' off-field endeavors, on this night, he is being rewarded for his own academic achievements.

While leading Florida State to the 1993 national title under coach Bobby Bowden, Brooks had a 3.89 cumulative grade point average. He earned a degree in communications in three years, received his master's degree from FSU in 2001 and earned an honorary doctorate from Saint Leo in 2006.

Brooks learned the importance of education when he was 10. His stepfather, Mitchell, came to his school unannounced to check on him. Mitchell was not thrilled by what he saw. Brooks was not paying attention, making jokes and shooting staples at other students.

Mitchell burst into the room and gave Brooks a spanking in front of the room full of students.

"That's the most embarrassing moment of my life," Brooks said. "But I obviously never forgot it, and it set me straight on what my priorities should be and what my parents expected of me."

Brooks is among five to enter the Academic All America Hall of Fame, a Class of 2014 that includes former Giants running back Tiki Barber. Longtime broadcaster Dick Enberg is there and narrates the video introducing Brooks. ESPN's Rece Davis conducts a brief interview on the stage.

"I was truly a student-athlete. I hated the term 'dumb jock,' " Brooks said. "It burned a fire in me."

Now a member of FSU's Board of Trus­tees, Brooks shares his message to athletes.

"Academics is nothing to fall back on," he says. "Academics is what you're going to stand on the rest of your life."

A few days later, Brooks sits in a boardroom near his office on Dale Mabry Highway. He is wearing shorts and a polo. There are blades of grass on his shoes, evidence he has managed to find time to hit a few golf balls, his only real hobby.

Final preparations for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame are being made. The invitations have been sent, replete with a personal audio message from Brooks.

Brooks recently sat at One Buc Place for Blair Buswell, the sculptor responsible for making the bust that soon will be placed among the immortals at the museum in Canton.

"It was when I'm sitting there, and it's he and I, and I'm thinking of all the busts I saw when I walked the Hall," he said.

"You're going to be right across from Sapp and Cris Carter. You're No. 281. You're up here with the best in the world. You're here with Marion Motley, with Jim Brown. While I'm thinking this, I must have been going through facial expressions because he's getting them on clay. He told me, 'Derrick, you have to stay focused.' That was my moment, thinking about the group I'm going to be a part of. How am I going to make this better? How am I going to make the Hall of Fame better?"

Somewhere, he will write it down on his daily planner. Right now, Brooks is too busy having the time of his life.

Contact Rick Stroud at and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. Follow @NFLStroud.

"Time is our most valuable resource because, one, you don't know how much of it you have. God only knows. We can show the value of that by what we do with it and the decisions we make.''

Derrick Brooks,