CANTON, Ohio — On a night when Derrick Brooks took time to thank so many people that helped make him a Hall of Famer — 67 by name in a 24-minute speech — the former Bucs linebacker made old friends back home in Tampa and Pensacola feel as special as he did.
Former Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica was watching the Hall of Fame ceremonies with friends at a bowling alley in Tampa when he heard his name. "The people around me went crazy," he said.
"Unbelievable," said Gramatica, who had to turn down an invitation from Brooks to Canton because of a business conflict. "So many people he could have thanked. It shows you the kind of guy Derrick is. He doesn't forget anybody. For me, I'm humbled by it. That was never, ever expected, especially the way kickers are looked at in the NFL. I'm getting so many calls and texts, I feel like I'm going into the Hall of Fame."
Brooks thanked 10 Bucs teammates by name and Gramatica, who played in Tampa with Brooks from 1999-2004, got the most colorful shout-out.
"I'd like to thank the right foot of Martin Gramatica," Brooks said. "There were a lot of games we won 9-3, 6-2, 12-9, and Martin kicked a 52-yard field goal. Martin Gramatica, I know you're home watching, man, thank you for that right foot."
Gramatica said Brooks has helped him with autographed donations to the Gramatica Family Foundation, which helps build homes for combat-wounded veterans in the Tampa area.
"Most people know him as the greatest linebacker to ever play in the NFL, but I know him as one of the greatest people I know," he said. "He's just a phenomenal person. We had great leaders in that era, it was unbelievable, but Derrick was the main guy."
Brooks also dropped a name far fewer people recognize, David Sinkfield, saying, "This man is a very special man" as he thanked his first coaches as he grew up in Pensacola. In his hometown, Sinkfield, retired from the U.S. Navy, proudly watched the ceremony. He still calls Brooks by his childhood nickname.
"Bo was like family with me," said Sinkfield, 62, who played in the same high school band as Brooks' mother, Geraldine. "I really do appreciate him recognizing me and mentioning my name. Just knowing I'm still in his heart, I can't tell you how it makes me feel."
Sinkfield might have recognized Brooks' football talents before any coach — he saw him as a 9-year-old in Pee Wee football, gladly taking him when another coach thought him too small.
"He was the smallest guy out there, was trying to make the team," he recalled. "One of the coaches didn't want him, wanted to cut him. I said, 'Let me have him.' I just saw something in him."
Brooks later played youth baseball for Sinkfield ("he was an outstanding baseball player") and his old coach credits Brooks' success to his mother always pushing him to study first, and to never miss a practice. He said he has only talked to Brooks a few times since he left for college, but hopes to visit with him soon, perhaps when Brooks' jersey is retired by the Bucs at their home game on Sept. 14.
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"I know I'll see him soon, one way or another," he said.