JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
NFC linebacker Derrick Brooks hoisted his Pro Bowl MVP trophy over his head after the game.
Brooks adds MVP trophy to war chest
One play, one Most Valuable Player award.
In his ninth straight Pro Bowl appearance, Tampa Bay outside linebacker Derrick Brooks finally got his hands on the most coveted swag given out after the game.
Brooks won a Cadillac and the MVP trophy to go along with the National Football Conference's 23-17 victory yesterday at Aloha Stadium.
The NFC won with overwhelming defense that included two fumble recoveries and four interceptions, and none of the turnovers was more important than Brooks' 59-yard interception return for a touchdown to give the NFC a 17-10 lead with 5:01 left in the third quarter.
That play -- even though the AFC went on to briefly tie it 17-all -- was not only the driving force for the NFC win, but it also sewed up the MVP award.
"We were playing man coverage and I was free, so I went with the tight end (San Diego's Antonio Gates) and I don't think Trent (Kansas City quarterback Green) ever saw me," said Brooks, who returned an interception for a touchdown in the Buccaneers' Super Bowl victory over Oakland in 2003 and turned the same trick in the NFC's Pro Bowl victory in 2000. "It felt like old times. I stepped in front of it and cruised.
"That was for anybody who doubted and thought maybe I lost a step."
The 32-year-old Brooks, who also had two tackles and one pass defense in the game, got another coveted postgame prize -- from AFC opponent, Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning.
"We've been here together many times and we never swapped helmets before, so on Monday we decided we'd do it after the game. I can tell you my helmet has a lot more marks on it than the one he gave me."
The writing on the bright white Colts helmet reads: "To Derrick, all my best, Peyton Manning, 2006."
The helmet figuratively signifies the "head" of the vanquished AFC quarterback. Manning was responsible for three of the four interceptions.
Brooks' contribution to the NFC's outing wasn't lost on some of his younger teammates and head coach John Fox of the Carolina Panthers.
"I have admired him for a long time," Fox said. "I remember evaluating him coming out of Florida State. He looked very youthful out there when he opened up his stride on that interception return. The leadership Derrick and some of the other veterans like Michael Strahan brought to the locker room was outstanding."
Seattle rookie linebacker Lofa Tatupu's face lit up when asked about his Pro Bowl relationship with Brooks.
"He told me to look for a (certain) route, and that if I did, I'd get one (an interception), too," Tatupu said. "And it almost happened. A pass to Chris Chambers went off my fingertips. If I trusted my eyes, I would have had it. I should have listened."
Said Bears second-year cornerback Nathan Vasher about Brooks: "He deserves this. He makes plays and he's been doing it for years. And he took one to the house. That's something I'm always trying to do any way I can."
More than anything, Brooks, an 11-year veteran who hasn't missed a start in the last nine seasons, was pleased with the victory.
"I haven't won in this game a lot, three times. In the fourth quarter, I was telling the guys, "We gotta hold on for the win."
During the week prior to the game, Brooks also had some advice for the youngsters:
"I don't take a snap in this game for granted. You never know when it's going to be your last snap."