CANTON, Ohio — Derrick Brooks hardly needs a new endeavor, but the newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame just embarked on yet another mission.
To make the Hall better.
“Coming out of that room for the past three hours, the fire’s burning,’’ Brooks said Friday after meeting with fellow Hall of Famers at the annual Ray Nitschke Luncheon. “I’m in awe. I was doing the best I can to soak up knowledge and greatness.
“In my mind, it’s a challenge that I’m willing to accept to make it better. I’d like to think that when God puts me on a stage or in a position to influence things, that they’re going to be better because I’m a part of it.’’
Now, the president of the Tampa Bay Storm and the co-founder of Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High is eager to tackle the next assignment.
“It’s like I can’t wait until Monday to get started on this new mission, amongst all the other things I’ve got to do,’’ Brooks said. “I’m going to do my best as a member of this new team to make the Hall of Fame the best Hall of Fame in all of sports.’’
Brooks was the first of the seven new inductees introduced Friday night before a crowd of 4,500 at a downtown civic center. He walked through an emotional gauntlet of Hall of Famers, with former teammate Warren Sapp waiting at the end to share a long embrace.
When his 15-year-old son Decalon draped a gold jacket over his gray suit, Brooks sank to one knee in prayer as the audience cheered in appreciation.
Brooks never missed a game during his 14-year career with the Buccaneers and enters the Hall in his first year of eligibility, joining Sapp and the late Lee Roy Selmon as Buccaneers in Canton.
Since arriving in town, it’s been a whirlwind of events for Brooks, who sat between wide receiver Charley Taylor and punter Ray Guy during a Hall of Fame photo shoot Friday morning. Then it was off to the Nitschke Luncheon and then a long session with the media before being whisked off to the Gold Jacket dinner.
This morning, Brooks will be waving to the crowd lining a downtown parade route before making final preparations for his 12-minute speech during enshrinement festivities at Fawcett Stadium.
“I get to start the show, so they can’t cut me off,’’ Brooks said with a wide grin. “Twelve can turn into 20. Others may get a tap, but not me. ... I plan to take full advantage.’’
Brooks and his immediate family attended a reception Thursday evening. His wife, Carol, has urged him to enjoy every moment.
“We’ve been having a blast,’’ Brooks said. “Everyone made it in safely last night, and that was our biggest worry. I’m having fun hearing the stories from the Hall of Famers, how they went against each other in the 1960s and 1970s. Everybody in that room has so much respect for each other. It’s like you’re a rookie again. You put a muzzle on, you take notes and you listen as hard as you can.’’
At Friday’s luncheon, Chiefs Hall of Famer Willie Lanier served as the emcee. Lanier was the first black middle linebacker in the NFL, and his oratory skills are legendary.
“Willie Lanier set the standard for the position,’’ Brooks said. “For 15 minutes (Thursday) night, he’s having a conversation with me about my era, my game. Willie Lanier. My son said, ‘You seem real excited about talking to him.’ I said, ‘Son, that’s Willie Lanier.’ Then my son goes on Google and he turns to me and says, ‘Dad, he was good.’ ”
Brooks planned on shaking hands with each of the other 108 Hall of Famers in town this weekend, estimating he is approximately 75 percent of the way there.
While Brooks met with the media Friday afternoon, hulking left tackle Walter Jones was talking just a few feet away. Together, they join cornerback Deion Sanders and wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff as Hall of Famers who played at Florida State University.
“When I first went to Florida State, Derrick Brooks was the guy who was setting the standard as the face of the team,’’ Jones said. “He’s all about respect.’’
In the hallway, Hall of Fame receiver James Lofton was asked about his impressions of Brooks, an 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker who will enter the Buccaneers Ring of Honor Sept. 14.
“To play a long time at a violent position and play it at that level is amazing,’’ Lofton said. “There’s a presence about Derrick, a resolve not to accept anything but his best effort. I’m sure glad I didn’t have to play against him.’’
A few weeks back, Brooks said this weekend’s honor wouldn’t fully hit him until he “breathed in that Canton air.’’
“It feels good, it’s rare,’’ he said. “Only 287 noses get a chance to do it. Now I feel an obligation to give back and make it better. ... I’ve heard stories from these men saying their lives changed just by wearing that gold jacket. I can’t get any higher in terms of my profession, but the life of Derrick Brooks moves on and there’s still greater things for me to accomplish.’’