The best thing about the day before the Super Bowl was learning that two FSU football studs I went to college with both made the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The hallowed hall is a little bit better for having both Derrick Brooks and Walter Jones join the fraternity that all little boys want to belong to as a child and only dream of it night after night when they are playing ball in high school or college.
Both Brooks and Jones are worthy of the induction. But it is Brooks who stands out to me, personally.
In all my time as a student at Florida State, as a sports writer in large markets and small community newspapers, I can honestly say I have never met a finer player or a finer man than Brooks. As a student athlete to leader of the Seminoles' defense to the man who helped Tampa Bay win its only Super Bowl appearance.
There are few people in this sports world I would want my son to grow up to emulate. Brooks (and Warrick Dunn) happens to be one of them. The term role model is often used too much in the sports world. This time, it isn’t used enough.
Brooks, 39, became the third Bucs player to receive the sport's highest honor, joining defensive lineman Lee Roy Selmon (1995) and defensive end Warren Sapp, who was elected in his first year of eligibility a year ago. He will be enshrined in Canton on August 1, with the other members of the class of 2014: Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones, Bills receiver Andre Reed, Giants defensive end Michael Strahan and Cardinals safety Aeneas Williams, and two senior candidates, Raiders punter Ray Guy and Falcons defensive end Claude Humphrey.
Known for his smile and at ease demeanor off the field and his fierce competitive nature on it, he was once considered the best linebacker at his position, a position that included Ray Lewis at the time.
According to tampabay.com, Brooks never missed a game until he retired after the 2008 season, amassing 11 Pro Bowl selections and five first-team All-Pro honors. With Brooks, the Bucs led the NFL in total defense twice (2002 and 2005).
His best season came in 2002, when he was named the league's defensive player of the year for a team-high 173 tackles, career-high five interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), 15 passes defensed, one fumble recovery and one sack. Ironically, when asked, Brooks said there was such a determination about making Tampa Bay, a laughingstock of the NFL for so long, a winner, that he did not enjoy the game while playing.
"I was so into our franchise being turned around and being relevant," Brooks said. "Maybe now I get a chance to do it because I can't do anything else in terms of football. I probably have not taken the time to smell the roses of my career, and I'm going to do the best I can."