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Brooks, Aaron 1976–

Aaron Brooks 1976

Professional football player

Showdown With Iverson

Stellar 1999 Quarterback Class

Won Wildcard Playoff

Sources

My whole life has been about turning you into a believer, New Orleans Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks told the Hartford Courant early in the 2001 season, his first full year as a starting quarterback in the National Football League. Trust me, sooner or later I am going to make you believe in Aaron Brooks. Blessed with tremendous natural ability, Brooks had to overcome obstacles all his lifeand usually did so by applying himself in lengthy stretches of sheer hard work. Brooks had already made believers of Saints fans with a strong finish in the 2000 season, in which he came off the bench to lead the Saints to their first NFL divisional championship since 1992 and to the teams first playoff victory ever.

The obstacles Brooks faced began with his home environment. Born March 24, 1976, in Newport News, Virginia, Brooks grew up poor as the youngest of three children in a single-parent household. Brooks is a cousin of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, and in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he recalled how the deck was stacked against the two young athletes. Where we come from, its a slim-to-none chance of getting out of there, Brooks said. Theres so much negativity going around, you dont really have any type of aspiration or people or role models to look up to. And we just really had to work at what we were doing and stay with it, and it was a break for both of us.

Showdown With Iverson

Emerging as a star at Ferguson High School in Newport News, Brooks became quarterback of the football team and lettered in three sports altogether. In what became a recurring motif in his career, however, Brookss accomplishments were somewhat overshadowed by the feats of a rival quarterback in nearby Hampton, Virginiafuture NBA star Allen Iverson. When one long-awaited showdown between the two quarterbacks came along, Brooks dominated, amassing almost 400 yards in completed passes.

Iverson ended up focusing his efforts in basketball instead. But when Brooks enrolled at the University of Virginia, the same story repeated itself. Brooks spent two years on the bench in the shadow of better-known players and another year off the field entirely; he was red-shirted, or held back a year so that the team could make use of his talents in his fifth year of college.

At a Glance

Born in Newport News, Virginia, March 24, 1976; youngest of three children; cousin of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Education: University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, degree in anthropology, 1998.

Career: New Orleans Saints quarterback. Excelled as starting quarterback for Virginia, 1997 and 1998; signed to Green Bay Packers in fourth round of 1999 NFL draft; traded to New Orleans Saints for 2000 season; replaced injured Saints quarterback Jeff Blake, September, 2000; led Saints to division championship and wildcard playoff victory, 2000; named Saints starting quarterback, 2001; set team records in several categories.

Addresses: Office c/o New Orleans Saints, 5800 Airline Dr., Metairie, LA 70003.

Brooks made good use of the time by declaring and eventually completing a challenging major in anthropology, a far cry from the minimally academic course-work often undertaken by powerhouse-program college athletes.

When he assumed the mantle of starting quarterback for Virginia in 1997, Brooks was ready to show the world what he could do. Though the attention of the national press corps was focused upon Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton, Brooks excelled by any standard; over two years he notched six games with over 300 passing yards, and ended up in the all-time top five of all of the venerable Virginia teams career passing statistics categories. He was named team captain in his senior year and won the schools Ben Wilson Award, given to the teams outstanding offensive player.

Stellar 1999 Quarterback Class

The 1999 NFL draft once again put Brooks in the position of having to make himself stand out from a crowd, as the nations college programs produced a bumper crop of top quarterbacks that year. Faced with competition from the likes of Daunte Culpepper, Tim Couch, and Donovan McNabb, Brooks was not even invited for a private tryout with an NFL teama blow to the sometimes self-doubting player. Brooks found the NFLs scouting combine, a mass tryout attended by hundreds of players, to be a degrading experience. You stand there wearing next to nothing and they measure everything on you, even your kneecaps, Brooks told Sports Illustrated. Then doctors pull on you, grab each place youve been injured. Its horrible.

Finally drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fourth round, Brooks ended up as the teams number-three quarterback. Far from discouraged, he set out to learn the ways of the NFL in his chilly new home and sought special help from veteran Packers starter Brett Favre; he asked Favre to name the best game he had ever played and then watched films of that game over and over. Though Brooks logged no playing time in 1999, he impressed Favre and the Packers management, who began to market him as a potential star to teams in need of help at the quarterback position.

Brooks was traded to the New Orleans Saints in 2000 and began the year in continued obscurity. His breakthrough came in the 11th week of the season when Saints starter Jeff Blake suffered a foot injury that kept him out for the rest of the season. Journalists wrote the Saints off, but Brooks passed for 1, 514 yards and nine touchdowns in the last six games of the season, with a Saints record 441 yards passing in a game against the Denver Broncos. A threat as a rusher as wellhe ran for 108 yards the following week against the San Francisco 49ersBrooks reminded some observers of the similarly rangy star quarterback John Elway (Brooks stands six feet, four inches tall).

Won Wildcard Playoff

Under Brooks, the Saints won the NFC West division championship, their first title in nine years, and went on to win their first-ever playoff game in a wild-card contest against the St. Louis Rams. Saints fans took to the young quarterback, with his Number 2 jersey becoming a strong seller at shops that carried Saints gear. In the spring of 2001, with Blake on the mend, Brooks logged marathon eight-hour practice sessions in preparation for the 2001 season.

Named the Saints starting quarterback by coach Jim Haslett, Brooks faced new problems during the 2001 season. He took criticism after television cameras caught him smiling after an incomplete pass during a game in which the Saints were trounced by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Brooks maintained to the New Orleans Times- Picayune that I wasnt out there laughing it off, and that his reaction stemmed from frustration at a game in which nothing seemed to go right. As the Saints playoff hopes fell apart in a four-game losing streak at the end of the season (during which Brooks was sacked 15 times), some observers questioned what they saw as a chip on the young quarterbacks shoulder. Once again Brooks found himself overshadowedthis time by Vick, who was the NFLs top draft pick and pulled down a multimillion-dollar annual salary in comparison with Brookss $275,000.

Nevertheless, Brooks had already demonstrated impressive statistics for a first- year starter. On track near the end of the season to set team records in passing yards, total yards, and touchdown passes, Brooks harmonized well with the rest of the Saints offense. With fans beginning to notice his resemblance to television star Jimmie Walker of Good Times situation-comedy fame, Brooks became more comfortable in the spotlight, although he remained shy about press attention. A generous man who has given more than perfunctory support to New Orleans area charitable endeavors, Aaron Brooks still had obstacles to conquer but seemed on track to become one of the NFLs great quarterbacks.

Sources

Periodicals

Chicago Sun-Times, July 1, 2001, p. 102.

Hartford Courant, September 28, 2001, p. C3

Houston Chronicle, January 4, 2001, p. Sports-1.

Sports Illustrated, December 25, 2000, p. 70.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 22, 2001, p. D3; October 21, 2001, p. E2.

St. Petersburg Times, December 22, 2001, p. C1.

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), November 25, 2000, p. Sports-1; December 3, 2000, p. Sports-6; December 22, 2001, p. Sports-1; January 3, 2002, p. Sports-1.

USA Today, December 29, 2000, p. CI.

Washington Post, August 26, 1999, p. D4.

On-line

http://www.neworleanssaints.com

http://www.nfl.com

James M. Manheim

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