Humility and longevity were the hallmarks of Derrick Brooks' career, so it was no surprise those were the major themes of his induction speech Saturday night at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brooks' self-described "thank you letter," to family, friends, coaches and teammates, took slightly more than 24 minutes as the former Bucs linebacker expressed his gratitude to 67 people, from peewee football coaches in his hometown of Pensacola to the Bucs' team chaplain. He spoke the way he played for 14 seasons with Tampa Bay — well-prepared and with a lot of heart. But for the first time, the team-first player permitted himself to enjoy the greatest individual accomplishment in football. "Tonight, I guess for the first time in my life, I get a chance to sit back and enjoy some of the successes of my individual career in the ultimate team game," Brooks said.
"When we unveiled that bust, it just realized to me that this is what it's all about. There's no higher place to go in this game. I promise you, now that I'm a part of this team, it's going to be a better team, and I'm going to work my butt off to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame better."
The only mystery to Brooks' induction Saturday was if his bronze bust would feature a smile or scowl. When he unveiled it with the help of his 15-year-old son, Decalon, who presented him, both Brooks and his likeness were grinning from ear to ear.
Decalon described his father as "a man who loved the game and he would play like he loved it." But his son also spoke of Brooks' love for children as evidenced by his charitable work and co-founding of Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School.
"He just loves kids and wants to provide a great future for them," Decalon said. "To me, he's a Hall of Fame dad and a Hall of Fame player."
Brooks, who never missed a game in his career, took the stage first among the Class of 2014, a few minutes after his former Bucs teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Warren Sapp called him "the greatest football player I ever played with in my life."
His outline followed his principles: faith, family and football. He thanked his wife, Carol — "Three words, I love you."
He did the same with Decalon and his other children, Darius, Brianna and Dania.
Brooks, 41, traced his journey from Pensacola to Florida State to the Bucs, pausing to make those who traveled to Canton stand up and be recognized.
He pointed to the heavens and thanked three people who raised him, all deceased: grandmother Martha Brooks, mother Geraldine and stepfather A.J. Mitchell, who whipped him in front of his fifth-grade class. "If you didn't love me enough to whip me, no telling where I would be," Brooks said.
Brooks said his mother was a great high school basketball player who became pregnant with him during her senior year and wasn't able to pursue a college career.
"She taught me this lesson," he said. "Never toot your own horn because you're making one sound."
"But if everybody else is talking about you, that sound is forever."
Brooks said he was proud to be the only Hall of Famer to have played football in only the state of Florida. Of FSU coach Bobby Bowden, who did not attend, he said, "You not only taught us about football, you taught us about keeping our priorities in order."
During his thank-you speech, when Brooks came to the part about the Bucs, he began by mentioning the late Lee Roy Selmon, the franchise's first overall draft pick and Hall of Famer.
"We're just trying to walk in the path he set for us today," Brooks said.
Describing his relationship with Sapp, Brooks said, "People don't understand how we are so opposite, but yet we're still the same." He credited then-coach Tony Dungy for challenging him and Sapp to play like Steelers greats Joe Greene and Jack Ham.
Brooks acknowledged many of his Bucs teammates, including Mike Alstott, John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Simeon Rice and Brian Kelly. He saved a separate mention for kicker Martin Gramatica: "Without Martin, there were a lot of games we won 9-3, 6-2, 12-9 and Martin kicked a 52-yard field goal. Thank you for that right foot."
Brooks said former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, who did not attend, motivated the team and him to be great. In 2002, Brooks was the league's defensive player of the year and led the Bucs to their only Super Bowl title.
"You challenged us not only to be good, but be great, be a story, be global," he said.
As the speech ran long, Brooks joked, "When you go first, you can take your time."
But he finished with a promise to his new Hall of Fame team:
"I just want to do the best I can to make something better than it is when I come in touch with it."
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected]bay.com and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. Follow @NFLStroud.
"Tonight, I guess for the first time in my life, I get a chance to sit back and enjoy some of the successes of my individual career in the ultimate team game."