NEW YORK — Derrick Brooks tried to make believe it was just another day, but he soon realized it was a fruitless exercise.
In the hours before he became the third Tampa Bay Buccaneer to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the iconic linebacker waited in a midtown New York hotel Saturday with his wife, Carol, to await word from Canton.
“I tried to make it pretty normal and I give my wife all the credit,’’ said Brooks, who never missed a game during his 14-year Bucs career. “She really tried to keep me busy. I told Carol that it’s kind of like before a game, hanging around the locker room — but I can’t go out and jog and get loose.’’
Brooks tried his best to keep a standard routine.
“What I did do different is my wife went out and got her nails done — and I kind of had mine done, too,’’ Brooks said. “I went to do an autograph session for the National Football League and we went to have lunch. I probably ate only half the sandwich, so she knew I was starting to get a little bit anxious.’’
There was no need for concern as Brooks joined defensive tackle Warren Sapp, his former roommate on the road, into the Hall one year apart.
Former Tampa Bay safety John Lynch and ex-Bucs coach Tony Dungy were eliminated Saturday when the selection committee reduced the field of 15 modern-day candidates to 10.
“Derrick Brooks exemplifies what the Hall of Fame is all about,’’ Dungy said. “I am so proud of him.’’
Also elected Saturday: Ray Guy, Claude Humphrey, Walter Jones, Andre Reed, Michael Strahan and Aeneas Williams
The late defensive end Lee Roy Selmon had been the only Buccaneer inducted into the NFL’s shrine to excellence until last summer, when he was joined by Sapp, a two-time NFL All-Decade defensive tackle.
Sapp and Brooks were elected in their first year of eligibility.
“This process forces you to be a little bit selfish,’’ said Brooks, who intercepted 25 passes and forced 24 fumbles after joining the Bucs in 2005 as a first-round draft choice out of Florida State. “That’s against my personality, but as my wife said, ‘Let your guard down for five minutes and enjoy this for yourself.’ I was so into making our franchise relevant.’’
Brooks said his 18-year-old daughter, Brianna, and his son Decalon, 15, will be his likely presenters in August, when he is formally inducted into Canton.
Currently the president of the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League, Brooks earned 11 Pro Bowl berths while defining the weakside linebacker position in the highly influential Tampa 2 defense. He was named to the league’s All-Decade team of the 2000s.
During Tampa Bay’s 2002 championship season, Brooks returned three interceptions for touchdowns and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
He entered the NFL with Sapp (University of Miami) as first-round picks out of state schools. Together, they played critical roles during Tampa Bay’s championship run.
“Who would have known back in 1995 that this franchise would have two more Hall of Famers at this point,’’ Brooks said. “I’m a guy who wanted to be an insurance salesman growing up. Now, I’m in the Pro Football Hall of Fame from Pensacola. That’s amazing.’’
As Saturday’s judgment day approached, Brooks started to reflect on his early days as a pro.
“I came out as a safety, but I wanted to prove I could play linebacker in this league,’’ he said. “Thank God for putting that resilient spirit in me. Now I’m going to strive to be the best Hall of Fame inductee I can be and make the Hall better because I’m a part of it.’’
Editor’s note: Tribune staff writer Ira Kaufman is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.