When he won the NFL Man of the Year Award in 2000, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks joined such company as Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, Junior Seau, John Elway, Dwight Stephenson and Lynn Swann.
When he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2002, Brooks added his name to a list that also included Ray Lewis, Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor, Lester Hayes, Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Joe Greene.
Now, Brooks has done it again. On Saturday morning, at a press conference held in the shadow of Super Bowl XXXVIII, Brooks was named the winner of the 2004 Bart Starr Award. By doing so, he put his name next to such NFL luminaries as Anthony Munoz, Mike Singletary, Reggie White, Jackie Slater, Darrell Green and Bruce Matthews.
Presented by Athletes in Action since 1988 and sanctioned by the NFL, the Bart Starr Award honors the NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community. The man for whom the award is named, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, personally presented the prestigious award to Brooks on Saturday. Starr was selected as a model for the award because of his life-long commitment to serving his family and his community.
"I'm very humbled to receive this award", said Brooks at the press conference. "It's truly an honor to be acknowledged with some of the other great men who have received this award. I'm just trying to follow in the footsteps of some great athletes, some of the people who made this game what it is today. I not only want to make a difference on the football field but also do something to make a difference off the field".
That it was Starr, the MVP of Super Bowls I and II, who handed the award over to Brooks was an additional honor. Brooks is likely to join the Packer legend in the Pro Football Hall of Fame at some point, but he was still floored when Starr called to inform him that he had won a few days ago. Brooks was driving in his hometown of Pensacola, Florida when he got the call from a representative in Starr's office.
"The woman on the line said, 'Is this Derrick Brooks?' and I said, 'It depends on who's calling?' Brooks recalled with a laugh. 'She said she was calling from Bart Starr's office and I had won the Bart Starr Award. I then very proudly said, 'This is Derrick Brooks.'"
Starr was next on the line and Brooks had to pull over to finish the conversation. "He said it was a great honor to give me the award", said the oft-decorated Buccaneer. "I was so excited I had to call my wife, Carol, right away. She said, "Honey, that's great. What time will you be home? The kids want to see you.'"
The Bart Starr Award is voted on by NFL players at the same time that Pro Bowl ballots are cast. This year, Brooks was chosen from among four finalists, which also included Micheal Barrow of the New York Giants, Jon Kitna of the Cincinnati Bengals and Troy Vincent of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Several former Bart Starr Award winners were on hand for Saturday's announcement, including Hall of Famers Munoz and Singletary. Another Starr winner, former San Francisco 49er Brent Jones, served as the event?s emcee.
Brooks is the first active Buccaneer to receiver the award. Last year's winner was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Trent Dilfer, a former Buccaneer. Other past winners include Steve Largent, Aeneas Williams, Irving Fryar and Darren Woodson.
Brooks had another outstanding year on and off the field in 2003. He led the team with 151 tackles and added two interceptions, a sack, three forced fumbles and nine passes defensed. He also continued and expanded upon such community endeavors as his highly-regarded 'Brooks' Bunch' program, his work on the NFLPA Diversity Committee, his appointment to the Florida State University Board of Trustees and the establishment of his own foundation, The Derrick Brooks Charities.
The Brooks' Bunch program has received national recognition, in large part due to the ambitious trips he takes his students on each summer. Previous Brooks' Bunch expeditions have visited Atlanta, Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, Tallahassee, the American West and even Africa. Brooks has formed real and lasting relationships with dozens of young men and women through the Brooks' Bunch.
"The impact that these programs have had, you can't help but get excited", he said. "It's truly a blessing. I'm looking forward to new challenges to make their dreams come true. I enjoy what I do because I enjoy getting these kids attention and seeing their dreams come true."