San Francisco Examiner

Niners bracing for Brooks
January 11, 2003
Of The Examiner Staff

SANTA CLARA -- You're a 49ers fan and you learned earlier this week that the Associated Press named Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Chagrined, you wonder: Couldn't they put that off another week? After all, Brooks and his Tampa Bay teammates don't need additional motivation Sunday, when the Buccaneers host the 49ers in an NFC divisional-round playoff game at Raymond James Stadium.

An eight-year veteran, Brooks emerged as the best player on the league's best defense, quite a compliment given the talent surrounding him. And he will be eager to show he was worthy of the honor when the 49ers and Tampa Bay square off.

The 49ers know this and are bracing for Brooks.

"He's a playmaker and is the type of guy who's always around the football," 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "He's one of those guys who's tremendously smart and athletic. You have to look where the football is and you'll find him."

Brooks, a perennial Pro Bowl player who was referred to as the "crown jewel" of the NFL's top-ranked defense, led the Bucs with 170 tackles, the fifth season he's done so.

This year, however, he led the NFL by returning three interceptions for touchdowns. Brooks' fourth touchdown came on a recovered fumble, tying him for the second-most touchdowns by a linebacker in league history.

There are few linebackers who can do what Brooks does. He can cover -- proved by his 15 passes defensed and career-high five interceptions. The 49ers' ability to control Brooks could determine the outcome of Sunday's playoff game.

"He makes a lot of plays," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "Earlier in the year, I kept telling Derrick, 'Jeez that was a great play. Super job Derrick.' By Week 5 or 6, he pointed out to me that he has been doing that here for seven or eight years.

"He is really a great football player. He goes sideline to sideline and he's an every-down linebacker who has great coverage ability and has a real knack for the big play.

"He's an inspiring guy on this team. With all that, he's got the great attitude. He loves football."

Brooks is honored to receive the individual award, but he's gunning for the ultimate prize: the Super Bowl trophy, something that has eluded the Bucs since they emerged as a league power in '97.

"Hopefully, this can be done in a championship year," Brooks said. "I just feel kind of funny. It's really, in my opinion, a team award."

Warren Sapp, the Bucs' loquacious defensive tackle, acknowledged that Brooks has long been deserving of the honor bestowed upon him this week.

"It takes a while to find the great one," Sapp told reporters this week. "They're kind of hidden, especially when he has a mouth like me beside him all the time.

"He's just an unassuming, businesslike professional who goes to work every day."

Asked if he felt the reward was overdue, Brooks said: "You can say that. But I'm going to be positive and say it's the right time for me to win it."

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