NEW YORK — You knew he would get there fast, the way he did on the football field, too quick to be impeded by anyone, weaving through the logjam of receivers on the ballot, even outsprinting a defensive teammate to the spot while his former coach looked on.
Derrick Brooks arrived at immortality swiftly Saturday night, elected to the Pro Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Brooks, 39, became the third Bucs player to receive pro football's highest honor, joining Lee Roy Selmon (1995) and defensive end Warren Sapp, who was elected in his first year of eligibility a year ago.
Because Sapp was last in his class to be elected a year ago and Brooks was the first Saturday, they, literally, will follow each other into the Hall, just like they did in the draft in 1995 and on the playing field.
"I'm right behind him, just as we played," Brooks said.
Brooks will be enshrined the first weekend in August at the museum in Canton, Ohio, with the other members of the class of 2014, which includes Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones, Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, Bills receiver Andre Reed and Cardinals safety Aeneas Williams and two senior candidates, Raiders punter Ray Guy and Falcons defensive end Claude Humphrey.
Former Bucs safety John Lynch and former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy, who also were among the 15 finalists for the first time, did not make it to the Round of 10. Nor did Eddie DeBartolo, the five-time Super Bowl champion owner of the 49ers and Tampa resident, who was a finalist for the third straight year.
When Dungy arrived as Bucs coach in 1996, he met with Sapp and Brooks, a pair of second-year pros, and told them they would take the roles of former Steelers defensive end Joe Greene and linebacker Jack Ham in the 4-3 defense. He said he believed both could make the Hall of Fame one day.
"I walked out of that meeting more intimidated than I was motivated," Brooks said. "I thought about that leading up to this, and I asked coach, "What did you see at that time?' He said, 'I looked at the tape. I saw what I needed to see in person, and I wanted to be honest with you guys what my expectations were. I did the best I could to live up to it.' "
Growing up in Pensacola, Brooks said he never aspired to play football. He wanted to be an insurance salesman because in those days, he collected money from his parents at the front door each month.
"My mom and dad were very happy to give him money, so I figured that was a good job," Brooks said.
But after an All-America career at Florida State, Brooks became a first-round pick with Sapp in 1995 and helped transform the Bucs from the league's laughingstock to Super Bowl champion.
Brooks never missed a game until he retired after the 2008 season, amassing 11 Pro Bowl selections and nine first-team All-Pro honors. With Brooks, the Bucs led the NFL in total defense twice (2002 and 2005).
His best season came in 2002, when he was named the league's defensive player of the year for a team-high 173 tackles, career-high five interceptions (three returned for touchdowns ), 15 passes defensed, one fumble recovery and one sack.
At that season's Super bowl, he had three tackles, one pass defensed and one interception returned 44 yards for a touchdown in a 48-21 victory against the Raiders.
Brooks always played with a determined look in his eyes, a seriousness he brought to the huddle. That focus was carved into his face for 14 seasons.
Because of that singular focus, he said he never enjoyed his career while playing.
"Did I ever take the time during to enjoy my career? And I would simply say no because I was so into our franchise being turned around and being relevant," Brooks said. "Maybe now I get a chance to do it because I can't do anything else in terms of football. Now that I'm in the Hall, I may take time to do it. I probably have not taken the time to smell the roses of my career, and I'm going to do the best I can."
Brooks said he tried to stay busy Saturday waiting for the call, which came by telephone from Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker.
He had an autograph signing, went to lunch — eating only half of his sandwich — and decided to accompany his wife, Carol, to get her nails done.
"I kind of got mine done, too," Brooks said, laughing.
He said a lot of things went through his mind as he waited for the call. He remembered his refusal to play safety coming out of Florida State, determined to make it as a linebacker despite being undersized at 6 feet 1, 235 pounds.
But Brooks said his elation over Saturday's announcement was tinged with sadness that Lynch, Dungy and DeBartolo did not make it.
"I started thinking about the other guys that didn't join me that I have a personal relationship with," said Brooks, the co-founder of Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School. "Now it's my job to do everything I can to help John, Tony and Mr. D get over the hump."
But Saturday, the game-day scowl from Brooks face was replaced with a bright smile that could light up the darkest day in Tampa
"This process forces you to be a little selfish, and that's everything against my personality," said Brooks, whose daughter, Brianna, 18, and son, Decalon, 15, will present him in August.
"My wife said, 'Let your guard down for five minutes and enjoy this for yourself.' That's what I'm going to try to do."