CANTON, Ohio — Hours before he addressed the Hall of Fame fraternity in his enshrinement speech, Derrick Brooks spoke emotionally to his Buccaneer family.
More than 200 people traveled up and back Saturday from Tampa to Canton on a charter flight to hear Brooks make his acceptance speech as a member of the Class of 2014.
The plane touched down in the morning and the group was whisked to the Hall of Fame, gathering in a conference room as a parade of speakers talked up the accomplishments of an 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker who never missed a game during his 14-year career in Tampa.
“To play with a guy like that would allow everyone else to play fast and free,’’ former Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice said. “Brooks would line everyone up and he’d change things if we were in the wrong defense. He was a player and coach on the field ... it was a beautiful thing.’’
Bucs coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht were part of the group, along with Tony Dungy and former teammates Hardy Nickerson, Mike Alstott, Brad Johnson, Cosey Coleman, Tony Mayberry, Chidi Ahanotu, Shelton Quarles and Paul Gruber.
“Consistency is the first word that comes to mind regarding Derrick,’’ said Johnson, the quarterback on the 2002 champion Buccaneers. “He did it at every level starting with high school and he was always the best player on his team. Talk about smart — he’d cut off the end of his gloves just so he could stretch another two inches to grab the ball. He knew where you were going before the ball was snapped.’’
Brooks received a standing ovation when he entered the room in mid-afternoon, sharing an emotional embrace with Dungy, the former Bucs coach who challenged him in 1996 to raise his game to an elite level.
“This journey has been wonderful,’’ Brooks said. “I’m still trying to grasp what all this means. I was in bed last night thinking about how hard the beds were during our training camp at the University of Tampa. Getting the gold jacket last night had me thinking about the memories.
“Warren Sapp could have told me what to expect this year, but to his credit, Warren didn’t answer a lot of my questions. He wanted me to enjoy all the experiences, and I thank him for that.’’
Brooks asked Gene Deckerhoff, the longtime voice of the Bucs and Florida State, to join him in the front of the room. Deckerhoff was in the broadcast booth for every game Brooks played as a Seminole and a Buc, except for the 1993 national championship matchup between FSU and Nebraska.
“Florida State could not get the radio rights for that game,’’ Deckerhoff said. “I wasn’t there, so don’t tell Derrick. We’d get on a Bucs charter plane during the week of the FSU-Miami game and there was a lot of stuff going on between Warren and Derrick. I always looked forward to that week. I consider myself pretty lucky. I’ve been around a lot of football players and a lot of coaches over the years and I got to work for or with Bobby Bowden, Tony Dungy and Derrick Brooks. That’s a pretty good trio.’’
Three days in Canton only sharpened Brooks’ sense of humor. He started talking about his Pensacola roots and generated ripples of laughter when remembering his first career objective.
“I expected to be an insurance man,’’ Brooks said. “Because in our hood, he was the only guy in a suit collecting money.’’