TAMPA — Almost four months have passed since Derrick Brooks learned he’ll be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, but the enormity of the honor didn’t sink in until Wednesday.
That’s when Blair Buswell came to town.
Buswell and the Buccaneers’ 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker spent all day getting to know each other in an executive suite at the team facility.
Brooks posed and Buswell sculpted, hoping to reflect the essence of a Bay area icon in a bust that will be immortalized in the halls of Canton, Ohio.
“I think this was probably one of the most surreal moments in this whole process,’’ said Brooks, who brought dozens of pictures for Buswell to absorb before artist and subject began talking ... and talking. “Today, maybe for the first time, I internally felt what this summer is going to be like.’’
Buswell was named the Hall’s primary sculptor in 2003, two decades after crafting his first bust. He captured Warren Sapp’s likeness — braids and all — a year ago as Brooks’ former teammate became the first Buc elected to the Hall since Lee Roy Selmon was inducted in 1995.
“Derrick and Warren are two totally different guys, and they’re both fun,’’ said Buswell, who worked on Michael Strahan’s bust Tuesday in New York City. “They talked about each other a lot.’’
Sapp invited Buswell to his Hollywood, Fla., condo last spring, but Brooks preferred to do his session at One Buc Place in appreciation of the organization’s role in his success.
On two of the four busts Buswell is responsible for this year, the Hall of Fame player came to his studio in Utah.
“I don’t leave until they’re comfortable with the expression,’’ said Bus- well, who took more than 5 hours Wednesday to work on a 25-pound clay sculpture of Brooks that will be cast in bronze and put on permanent display after the Aug. 2 enshrinement ceremony.
“This is a dream come true for me and I pinch myself all the time. I get to combine my loves of football and art. This is my 31st year working for the Hall. I was hired right out of college and it just doesn’t get any better than this.’’
For Buswell, successful Hall of Fame busts are the result of detailed investigative work. He delved into Brooks’ background and personal habits in search of the man behind the image.
“I think Blair captures my personality,’’ Brooks said. “And I think it’s important that he visits with you. I can’t imagine how they did this without being in the room. I appreciate the process and I probably asked Blair more questions than he asked me. He has a tough job.
“He’s trying to represent my personality, my expressions and my feelings, so people who don’t know Derrick Brooks personally can walk through the Hall and my bust says something to them. That’s what he’s trying to get across. I think the bust is coming along well to show what type of person I am. I was serious, but I always sent a message when you looked at me.’’
Brooks said Sapp had a simple message for him when Buswell arrived — enjoy the ride.
“Warren’s advice was to have fun,’’ Brooks said. “He had a lot of fun doing his bust. In the past couple of weeks, I was able to be around probably 95 percent of the Hall of Famers who are living and they stressed to have fun during the process. You’ve earned it, they said, so enjoy it and get ready to work when you get to Canton because you’re going to be busy the entire time.’’
Buswell looks at his assignment as a final stamp of approval for the best of the best.
“I’m the last guy they want to see, because that means they’re in the Hall,’’ he said. “Seeing me is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing because if they’re posing for me, they’ve made it. And it’s a great honor for me to be a part of it.’’
After the Brooks bust is officially unveiled on the evening of Aug. 2, it will be transferred to its final resting place in Canton, where 208,191 visitors strolled the hallways in 2013.
Sapp’s lonely bust is waiting for more company.
“They showed me the spot,’’ Brooks said. “Warren and I are going to be across from each other. Even though my number (on the induction list) is right behind his, I will be looking across the hall at him, same level, face-to-face. It’s fitting because on the football field, I can’t count the number of times we just looked at each other and knew what the other one was thinking. No words needed to be spoken.’’