Derrick Brooks played on Florida State football teams that lost just five games in his four-year career.
After Brooks watched FSU’s 24-21 loss at Florida, resulting in the Seminoles fourth-consecutive losing season at 5-7, he’s gained hope of brighter moments ahead.
“Steps in the right direction,” said Brooks, who returned to Pensacola for Monday’s Derrick Brooks Charity Golf Tournament at Pensacola Country Club, which raised money for his charitable endeavors in the community where he grew up.
“I like where Coach (Mike) Norvell has our program going and rebuilding our culture,” said Brooks, who helped lead FSU to the program’s first national championship in 1993 and were national title contenders the other three seasons he was a star linebacker.
“It took our alumni, our boosters and all the supporters to understand that, when you have to start from the ground up in a program, it takes time. I believe Coach Norvell will be given the time to get it in the right direction.”
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For perspective, FSU never lost an Atlantic Coast Conference game when Brooks played in a dynasty era forged by legendary coach Bobby Bowden.
The Seminoles’ 4-4 conference record this season matched their most ACC wins in five years.
Brooks said he’s encouraged by what he sees from Norvell and his staff, which has dealt with assorted challenges, along with navigating through the two-year coronavirus pandemic, to get the program back toward respectability.
“We took steps. Maybe not as many step as many would like, but I’m excited about our future,” he said.
He feels the same about his charitable golf tournament in Pensacola, which had circumstances force multiple date changes.
It was originally supposed to happen in April 2020. That was when the first onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic hit.
It was then rescheduled four more times – once by a tropical storm, the other time after days of rain – to finally be staged before 2021 ended. A number of Pensacola businesses stepped up with sponsorship dollars to help make it possible.
“We had 17 teams (four players each) and just to hang on to 17 teams through all of that showed to me that people wanted to be part of it, but they also knew what kind of a cause it was going to be,” said David Wilson, the tournament director, who has also been Brooks’ point person to direct the popular NFL Flag Pensacola youth flag football league that Brooks has sponsored for years.
Brooks flew in on private aircraft from Tampa, where he now lives, following his decorated Hall of Fame career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He brought former Major League Baseball star Gary Sheffield, along with former Florida Gators and NFL receiver Reidel Anthony and former FSU receiver Kevin Knox, a teammate with Brooks and Niceville native.
Those four were joined locally by former NFL players Josh Sitton and Fred Robbins, along with Reese’s Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, former MLB player Greg Litton, former pro golfer and PGA instructor Adrian Stills, now general manager of Osceola Golf Course, long-time WEAR-3 TV sports director Dan Shugart and Pensacola business entrepreneur and mayoral candidate D.C. Reeves as celebrity players in the tournament.
Though it began under cool temperatures, it was a cloudless, light-wind day to play golf.
“Mother Nature, she spoke and we had to listen,” said Brooks, laughing, about the recent attempts thwarted to hold the golf event. “But my goal was to make sure this tournament happened in 2021 no matter what.
“It’s about putting on good tournament, a good product and earning the community’s trust. And that is what I want to continue to do. I want to put action behind words and put funding and programs into the dollars we raise and thus far we’ve had a formula that has worked.
Brooks became one of Pensacola’s all-time greatest athletes. He rose from youth football in the Salvation Army league into prep stardom at Booker T. Washington, to acclaim as All-American linebacker at FSU, then into NFL greatness with the Tampa Bay Bucs.
He helped the Bucs win their first Super Bowl title, leading him into NFL immortality as one of just 31 linebackers enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
He helped co-chair Tampa Bay’s efforts to host Super Bowl LV on Feb. 8 when the Bucs became the first team to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
Nearly 10 months later, the Bucs (9-3) are among the Super Bowl contenders again. This season, however, the NFL is filled with competitive balance, including four division leaders having four losses. The Bucs have a three-game lead in the NFC South.
“That’s the fun thing about the NFL and the new playoff formula. Everyone stays in it the entire time,” Brooks said. “You want competitiveness all the way through.
“Tampa is right in the thick of things. As Coach (Bruce) Arians says, they are not defending, they are climbing,” Brooks said. “I like where the Bucs are sitting with a big win against Indianapolis.
“Much needed for them to establish dominance on the road. They are getting healthier heading into December. It is going to be fun playoff run for them.”
Brooks is now planning to make the tournament an annual Pensacola event, along with other charitable work to help education in the Pensacola area.
“This plan has been in the making for a long time,” Brooks said. “It started with our flag football league. That set the foundation for many other programs we plan to do here. This tournament is the first of many to come.
“I get excited talking about it. Obviously, the pandemic has delayed things. Today, it’s finally getting our tournament off to a good start and it’s going to be the first step in the right direction.”
Bill Vilona is a retired Pensacola News Journal sports columnist and now senior writer for Pensacola Blue Wahoos. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org