FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- I just came off the Atlanta Falcons’ practice field, but my mind has sort of been in Tampa Bay the last few hours.
I wrote a post Wednesday morning that was titled “Derrick Brooks does the right thing." It was long past the time for Brooks to officially announce his retirement, but I want to hit the flip side.
It also is time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to do the right thing. When the team hosts Brooks’ official retirement news conference at One Buccaneer Place on Thursday, the Bucs must get this one right. The manner in which things go down is critical to the future of a franchise that certainly has some issues.
The Bucs -- and I’m talking everyone from ownership to the front office to the public relations department -- must hit this one out of the park. A team that needs to sell tickets and win back its fan base needs the best player in franchise history and it needs to keep him for the long term.
The Bucs botched Brooks’ departure soon after general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris took over. You can argue that Brooks should have been kept around to help ease the transition on the field. That’s all ancient history now, but at the very least, the Bucs should have found a way to keep Brooks involved in some capacity.
They didn’t do that and they alienated Brooks in the way they handled his release. If anyone should have a lifetime pass to One Buccaneer Place, it is Brooks.
That’s why this sendoff must be done properly. This is a big day for Brooks, but it’s a bigger day for the Buccaneers. The Bucs need Brooks more than he needs them. When he walks out of One Buccaneer Place on Thursday, Brooks must feel like he’s part of the organization. If this thing comes off as some kind of insincere gesture, Brooks, a man of tremendous pride, may walk out of that building for the final time and keep his distance from the team.
I’m not saying Tampa Bay must make Brooks part of its coaching staff or give him some sort of executive title. I don’t think Brooks even wants those things. I’m pretty sure he just wants to feel genuine warmth and a little appreciation.
That puts the pressure on the Bucs. They did a very nice production when they announced a few months ago that former coach John McKay will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor. They got it right when they brought back John Lynch for a retirement news conference and when they gave Mike Alstott his own night two years ago.
But the Bucs have also botched a lot of other departures throughout their history. It took years after Doug Williams’ original departure for the wounds to heal. The team accomplished that when it brought Williams back as a personnel guy. Then, the team absolutely blew that bridge up again when they pushed Williams out the door a few months back.
It’s not too late to make things right with Brooks. The Buccaneers must make it clear he’s part of the team forever.