CANTON, Ohio — You'll hear much this weekend about the fact that Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks never missed a game in his 14-year NFL career. Teammate Ronde Barber (left) saw that toughness throughout Brooks' career, and said the closest Brooks came to sitting out was self-inflicted from, of all things, dry ice. He remembers a plane ride — the records suggest it was 2008, after a game at Atlanta in the last month of Brooks' final season — and Brooks had a rib injury. The ice applied after the game had melted, and Brooks sought relief from the dry ice used to keep cold the ice cream served to players on the flight. "He took one of those dry-ice packets and put it up on his ribs and he fell asleep," Barber said. "Half an hour later, it was stuck to him, like freezer burn on his skin. I was sitting next to him, and he had this massive skin patch off, and he almost missed the game because of the dry-ice burn. Of course, he didn't."
Brooks' oldest son, 15-year-old Decalon, will be the presenter during tonight's enshrinement. Following a group picture of the returning Hall of Famers and the Class of 2014 Friday, Decalon said he was surprised, but honored. "At first I was like, man, I can't do that,'' said Decalon, whose presentation will be shown via video, though he will join his father on stage for the unveiling of his Hall of Fame bust. "That's too nervous for me. It's a great honor to present him and going up there to unveil the bust with him. It's going to be great experience with all the Hall of Famers coming back.''
Former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan only played against Brooks four times, but as they enter the Hall together, he said: "Watching him with the Bucs and being on the other sideline is like, 'There's freaking Derrick Brooks,' and nobody gets anything past Derrick Brooks. We had some tough games. … We're out there banging on Mike Alstott and they're banging down on Tiki Barber. It was just such tough, defensive battles, and he was the leader of all that. He was the mastermind. He made sure (Warren) Sapp and (John) Lynch and everybody's where they needed to be. He was the ultimate field general."
Face to face
Brooks and Warren Sapp, who were drafted by the Bucs in 1995, earned defensive player of the year honors and won Super Bowl XXXVII, are teammates again. "He was the last in of his class at (No.) 280 and I'm the first in of my class at 281," Brooks said. "So everything we've done thus far we've been able to accomplish as teammates and to say that we are in the highest honor you can in terms of football, we are still teammates. Not a lot of guys can say that who came in the same draft class."
Madden an early fan
John Madden, 78, a Hall of Fame coach who won a Super Bowl with the Raiders in 1976, got to know Brooks as part of the Monday Night Football broadcast crew. "When you studied the Tampa 2 as an analyst, different teams did it different ways, but Tampa Bay did it better than anyone else,'' he said. ''When you studied it, you saw they had the Mike, the middle linebacker, real deep. As a coach, you think 'How do they take care of the area that guy just left?' The answer was Derrick Brooks."
Tom Jackson, known to this generation as part of ESPN's NFL team, spent 14 years as a linebacker with the Broncos. He came to know Brooks during his brief time as an NFL analyst there and said what made him special was his ability to excel at everything a linebacker is asked to do. "It's not often that you find a linebacker who can do everything," said Jackson, 63, who was a rookie in 1973, the year Brooks was born. "It's even rare that you find a linebacker who does everything really, really well. That's what separates Derrick from everybody else. He's great at all of it. Great coverage guy, great tackler, great hands, great in space. Biggest in the biggest games."
FSU makes it a double
Brooks and Seahawks tackle Walter Jones, whose playing careers at Florida State overlapped 20 years ago, are just the second pair of college teammates to be first-ballot inductees together. The other pair? The University of San Francisco's Gino Marchetti and Ollie Matson in 1972.
Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report.