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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Derrick Brooks joins the immortals

Derrick Brooks said that this week is probably the most he has smiled his whole life. One of his typical Brooks missions here was to make sure to shake the hand of each of the more than 100 Hall of Famers in town this weekend — his newest team.

Saturday night, the Bucs great said he wanted to help make his new home a better place.

Derrick Dewan Brooks makes the Pro Football Hall of Fame a better place just by being in it.

Brooks was enshrined Saturday. He unveiled his bronze bust with the help of his 15-year-old son, Decalon, before family and friends, teammates, coaches and all those fans in No. 55 jerseys.

And, yes, his bronze bust has a smile on it.

The stage at Fawcett Stadium brimmed with greats, including Warren Sapp, class of 2013, Brooks' friend and Bucs teammate. Sapp always knew his friend would join him, rapidly.

It was Brooks, after all.

“A Yellow Brick Road all the way to Canton,” Sapp has said.

Derrick Brooks did it right, all the way.

Saturday, he possibly set a Hall record for people thanked in his 24-minute enshrinement speech. It was Brooks, after all, ever thankful, with God first and last on his list, like always.

So many people had to be there for the outside linebacker whose extraordinary talent, consistency and durability helped stop the jokes and make the Bucs champions, whose leadership, dedication and caring went beyond football.

One fan held a sign.

Brooks: Leader. Mentor. Hall of Famer.

Jake Sahlin, 17, traveled from Scottsdale, Ariz., to Canton with his mother, Kim. Jake was raised in Orlando. He and his mom wore No. 55 jerseys. Kim graduated from Florida State, like Derrick Brooks.

“Did you see when Derrick got his (Hall of Fame) gold jacket (Friday) night?” she asked. “He took a knee and gave glory where glory is due.”

Today, Jake will be at an autograph session where Brooks is signing.

“I want to shake his hand, too,” Jake said.

Derrick Brooks made 11 Pro Bowls. He was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2002. He never missed a game in 14 seasons. He aimed to be the best, just like his friend, No. 99. Brooks just never said it out loud. He settled for walking the walk. He walked it all the way to NFL greatness. Off the field, too, touching children through his charity and the charter high school that bears his name.

“As a servant leader, I just want to do the best I can to make something better when I come in touch with it,” Brooks told the Canton audience. “I try to be patient in my journey knowing that God has blessed the mission that I'm upon as a servant leader.”

Elyse Silver sat in the crowd with her teenage sons, David and Thomas. They made the trip from Tampa, where Elyse teaches physical education at Carrollwood Elementary School. David, 15, played on an AAU basketball team coach by Derrick Brooks.

“He's genuine, polite, humble,” Elyse said. “He's a great example. He cares about education. My boys had to earn this trip as an incentive. They had to at least make honor roll and keep their behavior up. David got straight A's for the first time. … Thomas made a 3.5 GPA.”

Derrick Brooks made the grade his whole life. He lifted any team he ever played on, any mission he undertook.

Somewhere in Saturday's crowd was A.J. Ponds, a member of the original Brooks Bunch, which Derrick Brooks led on educational trips around the country and even to Africa.

Ponds later graduated college, helped by stipends through Derrick Brooks Charities.

A.J. Ponds' daughter, Alina, turns 5 today. Alina's dad intended to be back for birthday cake today, but he told himself he had to be in Canton on Saturday, to honor his friend and mentor.

He's part of Derrick Brooks' legacy, just like all those tackles and touchdowns, on a Yellow Brick Road all the way to Canton.

Smile, everyone.

The Hall of Fame is a better place this morning.

Derrick Brooks is in it.

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