By Zach Stipe, Florida State Sports Information
CANTON, Ohio -- While they never played on the same squad at Florida State, Walter Jones and Derrick Brooks are teammates this weekend as headliners in a star-studded 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class that also includes Ray Guy, Claude Humphrey, Andre Reed, Michael Strahan and Aeneas Williams.
The pair will be inducted in the Hall of Fame on Saturday – both on the first ballot, making them the only duo to join Canton in the same class from the same school on their first try since San Francisco’s Gino Marchetti and Ollie Matson accomplished the feat in 1972.
The FSU pair’s journey together started about 20 years ago. Just as Brooks was wrapping up his All-America career at Florida State in 1994, Jones was joining the Seminoles out of Holmes Community College (Miss.) for the 1995 season.
Jones distinctly remembers how excited he was to follow in the footsteps of the star linebacker at Florida State who he called the face of the Seminoles’ program.
“I tell him all the time – he is the one that set the standard at Florida State,” Jones said about his fellow Nole. “When went down to Florida State, I can remember watching highlights of him. He was making plays all over the field. He was doing the same thing at Florida State that he later did in the League. Anytime you can be with guys who went to the same school as you that were doing the same thing – wanting to be the best at what they do, it’s an amazing feeling.”
Jones and Brooks were the best at what they do for more than a decade in the NFL. Brooks went to 11 Pro Bowls and never missed a game in 14 seasons in the NFL all with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while Jones became the NFL’s premier left tackle, going to nine Pro Bowls over 12 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks.
Both retired in 2008, and, now six years later, Jones and Brooks will be teammates for the first time as first-ballot Hall of Famers. Their selections to Canton give Florida State four members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Deion Sanders was elected in 2011 and Fred Biletnikoff was selected in 1988.
At the official announcement of their election in New York, Brooks immediately found his fellow Seminole.
“He’s the first guy I hugged when I got in that room in New York (for announcement),” Brooks said. “We’re still hugging each other, celebrating.
“It’s extremely special. Walter and I share some history, being the second time two guys will go in on the same ballot from the same college. We wear that proudly in terms of representing Florida State.”
The pair talked often about their time at Florida State and how Tallahassee shaped them for professional success.
Brooks was a two-time consensus All-American linebacker for the Seminoles. He starred at FSU from 1991-94 and led Florida State to its first national title in 1993. He was a finalist for the Butkus, Lombardi and Football Writer’s Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1993 and 1994.
“Starting with Coach (Mickey) Andrews recruiting me since high school,” Brooks said. “He pushed you. He made sure, if you had an ounce, he wanted it and he got it. That drive that he challenged me and others with was legendary. And Coach (Bobby) Bowden, being what he has been, over generations of time. In my mind, he’s the best college football coach of all-time. I thank him for setting priorities straight for me.”
Jones attended Holmes Community College before coming to FSU in 1995. Following a redshirt season, he dominated the competition at the left tackle position and led FSU to an 11-1 record in 1996. He surrendered just one sack the entire season and was selected as a Second Team All-American by the Associated Press.
“I redshirted my first year and then the next year I got to start,” Jones said. “For me to be able to play in front of that crowd at Doak Campbell (Stadium). The first time I got a chance to get on the field – to play in front of all of those people – it was amazing. I finally had made it.
“I always go back to what Bobby Bowden first told me – ‘if you come to Florida State, you will get a chance to play for a National Championship.’ I got a chance to do that. We didn’t win, but he was right.”
Bowden’s promise still rings true today for the reigning National Champions. As the Seminoles made their undefeated run during the 2013 season both Jones and Brooks said they were passionate fans.
“I was rooting for them,” Jones said. “They ran the table and got there. The team was great. Coach (Fisher) figured it out. Florida State is the team that everybody wants to play for again.”
Brooks, who still lives in Tampa, can be seen on the sideline at several games per year. He was excited about last season’s team, but wouldn’t go as far as to say the 2013 Seminoles were the best FSU squad ever. He saves that declaration for a team he’s more familiar with.
“I reminisced to the point where I remembered if we would’ve played ‘em, we would’ve beat ‘em,” Brooks said with his characteristic smile. “That 1993 team, we were loaded – top to bottom. Complete football team. I’ll put that team up against any college football team in any era.”
Nearly 20 years after Brooks won that national championship crown with his teammates in 1993, he gains another honor with another teammate on Saturday night.
“I can’t think of any better teammate to share this than with Walter Jones,” Brooks said.