Late in the afternoon on February 2, Derrick Brooks was in New Orleans, in the middle of all the pre-Super Bowl XLVII activities. As Brooks made an appearance at an NFL event downtown, his good friend Warren Sapp was about a mile away, in the final stages of an agonizing wait.
Sapp, Brooks’ long-time teammate with the Buccaneers, was one of 15 modern-era finalists waiting to find out if they had nabbed one of, at most, five spots in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013. The field of finalists was so deep and accomplished that neither Sapp nor Brooks could predict with much certainty if the game-changing defensive tackle would get the Hall’s call on his first try.
That’s why Brooks was a mile away, taking part in the NFL event but keeping one eye on a nearby TV monitor.
“I told [the NFL reps], ‘If Warren gets in guys, I’ve really got to go and be there for him,’” he said. “They were gracious enough to agree, and when I saw the names go across the screen and heard his name called, I had to go. I got out of there as quickly as I could.”
Brooks left the event and began jogging down a downtown sidewalk, heading towards the Super Bowl Media Center. He arrived just as the show that followed the naming of the Class of 2013 – Sapp plus Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden, Bill Parcells and Senior Committee selections Curley Culp and Dave Robinson – was wrapping up, and found his friend overcome by emotions.
“It was just fitting for me to be there to hug his neck – one of his teammates from that Buccaneer defense needed to be there,” said Brooks. “That was probably the most emotional I’ve seen him in a long time. Words cannot express how great it is to see not only a teammate but a really good friend go into the Hall of Fame. You can say that a good friend of yours is in the Hall of Fame. That’s special to me, and it’s special for all the guys who played on that defense.”
Brooks and Sapp, drafted together in the first round in 1995, were the two brightest stars on a defense that had plenty of them, and an amazingly sustained run of success. The Buccaneers team that spanned the last half of the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s stands as one of the best defensive crews in NFL history, peaking in 2002 on the way to Tampa Bay’s first Super Bowl title. Sapp and Brooks are two of only six players in league history who have won a Super Bowl, earned and NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and been named to at least seven consecutive Pro Bowls. Sapp retired one year earlier than Brooks and was thus eligible for Hall of Fame consideration one year earlier. His first-ballot selection means that Brooks is the only one of those aforementioned six – which also includes Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Greene and Jack Lambert – who is not yet in the Hall of Fame.
“Yet” being the operative word. Sapp’s selection in his first try would seem to bode well for Brooks, who has an equally impressive resume. There’s another reason, however, that the shape of this year’s class of inductees can be viewed as good news for Sapp’s teammate. Namely, there would seem to be less of a chance of a Buccaneer split vote in 2014.
Had Sapp not been chosen this year, he would have been a very strong candidate next winter, along with Brooks. In addition, former coach Tony Dungy, who was at the Bucs’ helm from 1996-2001 and who later won a Super Bowl with the Colts, will be on the 2014 ballot. While the thought of all three going in at the same time is thrilling for Buccaneer fans, chances are they have a better shot being staggered.
“I don’t know if I’d have wanted Warren and myself to be on the same ballot along with Coach Dungy,” said Brooks. “At one point, you want that, thinking, ‘Man, the three of us could get in together.’ But the process, the way it’s set up, we understood how tough that would have been. I’m grateful that it’s my turn now, and we’ll see how the cards are played. As other Hall of Famers have said, you’ve done all you can do now. You’ve put your resume on paper and on tape, and you just go through the process and hope you’ve done enough.”
Brooks was there for Sapp as his teammate went through the process this year. In fact, they had lunch together on Thursday, two days before the announcement, and Brooks says their main goal was to avoid talking about the Hall of Fame as much as possible. It wasn’t easy. In the end, they decided there wasn’t much they could do about the outcome at that point, so they tried not to worry about it.
Sapp will surely be there to help Brooks when the situation is reversed next year. Hopefully, they’ll once again be sharing a tearful hug on the day before the Super Bowl.