NEW YORK – Former Florida State and Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks has lots to be thankful for in his playing career.
Brooks was part of Florida State's first national championship team in 1993 and became a first-round draft pick of the Buccaneers in 1995, spending all 14 NFL seasons with Tampa Bay. He was an 11-time Pro Bowl player and was the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, leading the Buccaneers to their only Super Bowl win in franchise history.
His jersey numbers -- No. 10 in college and No. 55 in the NFL -- have been retired, and he received the highest community honor bestowed by the NFL when he was named the 2000 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
Yet, despite all the accolades, nothing means more to him than being able to help retired FSU coach Bobby Bowden win the first of his two national championships.
Brooks, who was honored Tuesday in New York, along with 15 other members of the 2016 College Football Hall of Fame class, fondly remembers the look on Bowden's face immediately after the Seminoles beat Nebraska in the 1994 Orange Bowl.
"It would be coach Bowden's face in that locker room after we won the championship in '93," Brooks said when asked if he could relive one memory from that day. "And the first two words out of his mouth were, 'Thank you,' to us. Obviously, we'd been down that road a lot, and two field goals in the wrong direction (against Miami in the two previous seasons), we felt, cost us national championships."
Brooks becomes the sixth College Football Hall of Fame inductee from Florida State, joining Bowden and former Heisman Memorial Trophy winner Charlie Ward, who was quarterback of the 1993 team.
"And that moment of seeing it all culminate for him in that locker room, you can literally -- when I say I know what it's like to have the bear off your back, I saw that with coach Bowden, that burden lifted off his back by us winning the championship in 1993," Brooks said. "That moment is very special for me in terms of coach Bowden and what he's meant, not only to me, but for a generation of players."
Of Florida State's three national championship seasons, only the 1993 team is marred with the stain of imperfection. The Seminoles lost to Notre Dame in November, but the Fighting Irish lost one week later to Boston College, propelling FSU back into the national championship conversation.
Brooks still believes the talented 1993 team would outlast the 2013 Jameis Winston-led team if they played head-to-head.
"Us, hands down," Brooks said when asked which team would win.