CANTON, Ohio — He has been cloaked in compliments, measured for immortality and all of it has felt a little snug in the shoulders to Derrick Brooks.
"It's been harder than I realized," Brooks said on the eve of his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "I was the ultimate team guy and the way I went about it just wanting to make sure our team stayed relevant. I never had a chance to enjoy my career. And it is a process and I'm going to go in as Derrick Brooks.
"There's only one gold jacket. I can't put it on all of them."
Brooks spent Friday posing for a group photo with more than 60 Hall of Fame members on the steps of the museum while seated next to Jim Brown, Charley Taylor and Ray Guy, attended a members-only luncheon directed by former Chiefs linebacker Willie Lanier, held a 48-minute news conference and received the iconic gold jacket from his 15-year-old son, Decalon, at an exclusive dinner.
He is the third Bucs player to have one in his wardrobe, joining the late Lee Roy Selmon (Class of '95) and teammate Warren Sapp, who was enshrined last year. Brooks' bust will rest directly in front of Sapp's after tonight.
Brooks said he never played pro football with the goal of ending up here. But this week, his goal is to shake hands with every returning member of the Hall. Of course, he's keeping a list. "I've not gotten them all yet," he said. "I've got three-fourths of the room."
Brooks said he has had several "pinch me" moments. The first came Thursday at his hotel, running into John Madden, the former Raiders Super Bowl coach and legendary broadcaster who is in the Hall of Fame. Sitting next to Taylor and Brown was another. He was inspired by Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, who is battling cancer yet is here to support Bills teammate Andre Reed.
But nothing has prepared him for tonight's enshrinement.
Decalon, a football and basketball player at Gaither High School, said he's excited to present his father. Brooks lobbied Joe Horrigan, the Hall's vice president of communications, to allow all four of his children to introduce him, but to no avail.
"He gets to show his leadership among his siblings," Brooks said of Decalon. "They had their team meeting, their huddle, so I'm anxious to see how he's going to represent himself before his brother and sisters in the presentation."
Brooks, who will be the first of the seven inductees, has prepared some bullet points, but will speak mostly from his heart. "Is my speech done? I would say no because I want my speech to be my life and that's what I look forward to getting up there and sharing," he said
Of course, he has a thank-you list and will remember his late mother, Geraldine, whom he says would have brought all the fun from Pensacola. "Heaven is having one big tailgate that Canton is missing," Brooks said. "Because if she were here, trust me, Canton would know it. Of course, she's smiling down on me and my dad as well."
The only secret? Whether his bust is smiling or wearing his trademark game-time scowl. "I'm not giving that away," he said.
Brooks has been under strict orders from wife Carol to have fun. He has not missed that assignment, either. He tried, unsuccessfully, to sneak away to the gift shop but vows to return.
"I am committed to coming back here, unannounced, very soon after these ceremonies on my own dime, my own time," Brooks said. "Hopefully, no one will know I'm there, and appreciate the Hall as a fan."
True to his nature, Brooks said he is looking forward to Monday, when he can begin representing his new teammates at the Hall of Fame. "I'm looking forward to Monday when I put this jacket on and now the work really starts. How can I make the Hall of Fame better with this new platform? That's the journey I'm looking forward to."
In the end, being among the immortals will suit Brooks just fine.
"My jacket size?" he said.
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"Is my speech done? I would say no because I want my speech to be my life and that's what I look forward to getting up there and sharing."