© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2003
THE MAN: Few players impact a game or an opponent's game plan as much as the Bucs' eighth-year linebacker. Defenses run from him, passing games must account for him and ultimately hope he does not make the game-breaking play with his 6-foot, 235-pound frame and running back speed. We're not talking big sacks or key tackles. The Florida State product came within one of the NFL record this season when he returned four turnovers for touchdowns. His presence has helped the Bucs become the only defense in the NFL to finish in the top 10 overall six straight years. This season it was No. 1.
HISTORY AND BEYOND: Already the Bucs' franchise leader with almost 1,200 tackles, Brooks, 29, has been named to six straight Pro Bowls and is the 2002 NFL defensive player of the year.
"Our defense has played well, and to be considered the best out of these guys is very humbling," Brooks said. "We talk about greatness and I think the last time a linebacker won this award, he went on to win the Super Bowl and that was Ray Lewis. Hopefully, that'll be the case this year."
TEAM GUY: The foundation of the 2002 NFC champion Bucs was put down in 1995, when the team selected Brooks and defensive tackle Warren Sapp in the first round of the draft. Since then, Brooks has made himself part of the community as well as the team. Among his numerous philanthropic endeavors are the March of Dimes and Brooks Bunch, a childrens' group he took on a two-week field trip to Africa in 2000. That year he received the Walter Payton/NFL Man of the Year award for his off-field work.
MORE TO COME: Brooks is in the second year of a six-year, $30-million contract.
HIS PLACE: This season Brooks became the first linebacker to have three interception returns for touchdowns in a season, and his four scores were second-most ever for a defender. He had five interceptions, 10 or more tackles in 10 games and led the Bucs in total tackles for the fifth-straight year with 170.
GAME FACE: For a man who excels in a violent sport, at a position requiring punishing attitude and intimidation, Brooks most often is reserved off the field and nondemonstrative on it. He broke form Sunday in Philadelphia, when after the Bucs' 27-10 victory he grabbed a Bucs flag and waved it at a section of rowdies sitting above the tunnel to the visitors' locker room. "That was a little bit out of character for me," Brooks said. "There was a bunch of guys up there who were chanting my name when we were doing warmups so I gave a little back to them."