Sunday, January 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Brooks savors road to Hall of Fame vote

TAMPA — Derrick Brooks is prepared. One of the most instinctive and studious players during his 14-year NFL career, he has examined the opposition, broken down the tendencies and is embracing the process.

But this will be no ordinary football weekend for Brooks, the Bucs iconic linebacker who is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

And Brooks admits he is nervous.

"It's been hard not to think about it every day," Brooks said. "I'm trying to equate it to a ball game. As I got closer to a ball game, the more my nerves, my excitement, it boiled in a good way. But I knew on Sunday I had an opportunity to affect the results.

"I don't have that in this capacity. That's the nervousness I have in accepting that. The resume is written. There is nothing else I can do."

Brooks, 40, sat in his office as president of the Arena Football League Tampa Bay Storm this week and reflected on a career that was arguably the best of any player in Bucs history. Defensive tackle Warren Sapp may have been a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection a year ago, but Brooks was the undisputed leader and captain of the team that went from a laughingstock when he was drafted in 1995 to Super Bowl champion in 2002.

Brooks never missed a game until he retired after the 2008 season, amassing 11 Pro Bowl selections, six All-Pro honors and the 2002 Defensive Player of the Year award.

Complicating matters for Brooks is that he isn't the only finalist for the Hall of Fame with Tampa Bay ties. Safety John Lynch, former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy and former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, a Tampa resident, also are finalists.

After a morning of presentations about each of the 15 finalists, the 46 voters (print and broadcast journalists) will vote on the Class of 2014 (a maximum of five), which will be announced Saturday in New York on the eve of Super Bowl XLVIII.

"That's why it's hard for me to imagine these men as my competition," Brooks said. "There are only five spots. It's hard for me. Coach Dungy put it in the proper perspective. At the end of the day, you've got to be humble enough and accept if you're one of the 10 guys that lost, you can celebrate the company of the five guys that win. You can't do anything to affect the results. Now if we were playing a game? That would be different."

Brooks, at 6 feet 1 and 235 pounds, was a transformative player at the outside linebacker position.

At the time of his arrival, bigger, pass-rushing linebackers such as Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas were the NFL prototypes.

But Dungy, who had played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and later was their defensive coordinator, sat Sapp and Brooks down shortly after being hired and told them the standard they could achieve was similar to that of Joe Greene and Jack Ham — both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"To me, he came along at the perfect time and the system was right, the game was changing into a passing game and teams were opening the field by going to three receivers and spreading the field," Dungy said. "He proved you could be a dominant force on defense without rushing the passer and he would make 15 tackles and two passes defensed and change the course of the game.

"I don't know what a first ballot Hall of Fame player is supposed to be unless you're dominant at your position and re-defining the position. He was a linebacker who could play every down. You didn't have to take him out. If you tried to play smash mouth, he would still play and make game-changing hits or game-changing interceptions."

Brooks' workout regimen and preparation was legendary. He doesn't drink or smoke. He took care of his body and "prayed a lot, and was lucky I guess."

In 2000, Houston Chronicle reporter John McClain, who is on the Hall of Fame selection committee, talked to Brooks, Sapp and Lynch about what it would take for them to one day join the legends in Canton, Ohio.

"I think he's as close to a sure thing this year as you'll get," McClain said. "Derrick is voted in, that gives the Bucs one more this year after Sapp last year. I'd be surprised if they will get multiple inductions in one year. That's unusual."

Charean Williams, a reporter with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and a voter, agrees.

"Brooks, to me, is a lock," Williams said. "I hope the other voters feel the same way. He was a three-down linebacker, not a rush specialist. He could play in space or in the box. He was Defensive Player of the Year. He played a long time, won a championship and played in a scheme copied by teams. What else do you want? He defines Hall of Famer."

Lynch and Brooks have grown even closer off the field since their retirement. They telephone each other at least twice per week and try to get together often. For nine of his 11 seasons in Tampa Bay, Lynch had a perfect vantage point to watch Brooks operate.

"Derrick had this gait," Lynch said. "It was graceful but people never comprehended how much ground he covered because it looked like he was shot out of the blocks. He had this ability to cover space and it was like nothing I've ever seen. You put it all together and what you have is a special Hall of Fame player."

But Brooks can only wait and hope for his call from the hall.

"I don't want to let that nervousness getting in the way of enjoying the process," Brooks said. "I can't be so excited I miss out on people sending their well-wishes, their congratulations. So I'm just going to enjoy the ride."

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