CANTON, Ohio — Derrick Brooks, who always arrived to the football in a hurry during a glorious 14-year career with the Buccaneers, took his sweet time Saturday night.
Soon after the iconic linebacker walked to the podium as the first speaker among seven new members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it was evident that Brooks approached his acceptance speech with the same obsession to detail that defined his 224-game stint in Tampa.
“There is no higher place to go in this game,'' Brooks said. “I'm going to work my butt off to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame better now that I am part of it.''
In a speech that lasted 24 minutes and covered all facets of an extraordinary life in full, Brooks honored the memory of his mother, step-father and grandmother, thanking them for providing a strong foundation. He singled out special people in his hometown of Pensacola and coaches and teammates from his days as a Florida State standout before turning his full attention to his Bucs family.
All of the Hall of Famers were asked to adhere to a 12-minute time limit for their speeches, but as Brooks noted halfway through his talk, “When you go first, you can take your time.''
The closest Brooks came to breaking down was when he talked about the impact of his mother, Geraldine. Another emotional moment came when Brooks and his 15-year-old son, Decalon, unveiled his Hall of Fame bust, which will be placed directly across from the braided bust of his former roommate, Warren Sapp.
Derrick and Decalon posed for pictures behind the bust and the new Hall of Famer patted the top of his bronze likeness as the crowd applauded.
“Tonight, I guess for the first time, I get a chance to sit back and enjoy some of the successes of my individual career in the ultimate team game,'' Brooks said. “I want to thank Decalon for that wonderful introduction. You did a fabulous job. I'm so proud of you, son, and this day is just as big a part of you as it is me.''
Overcast skies cleared shortly before the enshrinement ceremony as the crowd filled in at Fawcett Stadium.
The Bucs contingent was seated directly in front of the stage, with co-owners Bryan, Joel and Ed Glazer looking on with pride. Former Bucs coach Tony Dungy and current Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith were also in the crowd, along with former 49ers owner and Tampa resident Ed DeBartolo, co-founder of the Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School.
Former teammates on hand included John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Anthony McFarland, Warrick Dunn, Brian Kelly and Jeff Gooch, who works with Brooks at the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena League.
“This is the ultimate honor in the sport and I can only imagine how Derrick is feeling,'' said Smith, who was Brooks' linebackers coach for five seasons. “When you're the best player on your team in high school, in college and in the NFL and you do everything right off the football field ... if Derrick Brooks isn't a Hall of Famer, who is?''
Representing Tampa Bay's former management team in Canton were then-GM Rich McKay and Tim Ruskell, Director of College Scouting in 1995, when the Bucs traded back into the first round and drafted Brooks out of Florida State with the No. 28 pick.
Decalon Brooks also served as his father's presenter and spoke eloquently during taped remarks that were aired Saturday night.
“He was a man who loved the game and played like he loved it,'' Decalon said of his famous dad.
The new class also includes defensive end Michael Strahan, tackle Walter Jones, defensive back Aeneas Williams, wide receiver Andre Reed and two Senior candidates, punter Ray Guy and defensive end Claude Humphrey, growing the list of Hall of Famers to 287.
Williams singled out Bucs cornerbacks coach Gill Byrd for serving as a mentor when Byrd's NFL career was winding down in San Diego and Williams was a young cornerback with the Cardinals.
When emcee Chris Berman of ESPN first introduced the new inductees, Brooks walked down the aisle first, followed by Guy -- the only pure punter in the Hall. They made quite an odd couple standing side-by-side: Guy, a shocking first-round pick by the Raiders in 1973, and Brooks, born 2 1-2 months after Guy was drafted.
“I'd like to recognize our first Hall of Famer for the Buccaneers, the late, great Lee Roy Selmon,'' Brooks said. “Lee Roy set a standard ... we're just trying to walk the path he set for us. Next, I'd like to recognize the organization's second Hall of Famer, my draft classmate from 1995, my roommate, my teammate, Mr. Personality like no other.
“I wouldn't trade you in for another brother, my man, Warren Sapp. Doom. People don't understand how we are so opposite, yet we're still the same. We get along, and I simply tell them it's not their business. It's God's. I love you, man, and I know I wouldn't be standing here without you.''
Sapp, inducted in 2013 in his first year of eligibility, returned the accolades.
“He's the best football player I've ever played with,'' Sapp said of Brooks. “Without him, I wouldn't be here. We had a good deal for a long time together.''
A few hours before Brooks took the stage, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed a large group of Buc supporters gathered in the Hall.
“The National Football League needs more people like Derrick Brooks,'' said Goodell. “He's everything a Hall of Famer should be.''