By: Terrill J. Weil
Da Boot Sports!
Today's Q & A Session is with former LSU and NFL great Michael Brooks. From Ruston, LA.
Brooks played linebacker at LSU from 1983-1986. He would earn All-SEC honors both in '84-'85, then All-American in 1986. His speed, strength, intensity and big play making ability earned him elite status on the field. In 1987 the Denver Broncos would draft him in the 3rd round. In ten NFL seasons, (Broncos 1987-1982: Giants 1993-1995: Lions 1996), this standout linebacker recorded 962 total tackles, including four straight seasons of recording over 100 tackles. He would also add nine fumble recoveries, seven sacks and four interceptions in his career.
Brooks is an inductee in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, and the LSU Sports Hall of Fame.
Q - What is your favorite TV Show?
Brooks - Right now I've been watching a lot of CNN with the news and everything that's
going on and to follow what's going on in sports I watch First Take. Those two are pretty much my favorite shows right now.
Q - What is your favorite Food?
Brooks - A good steak and some baked chicken.
Q - Who is your favorite Pro Athlete?
Brooks - I enjoy watching Kawhi Leonard right now.
Q - What are your favorite Sports Teams you enjoy following?
Brooks - I follow the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants, the teams that I played for. I still follow those guys and I have a lot of friends who work in the organizations. So, yes.. The Broncos and the Giants.
Q - What is your favorite Movie?
Brooks - I like The Shawshank Redemption. I love the old westerns. I've watched Shane several times. It's one of my favorites of all-time.
Q - Who is your favorite Actor?
Brooks - Denzel Washington and Sean Connery
Q - Who is your favorite Music Artist?
Brooks - That has changed over the years. When I was younger I liked the old school
rapper guys. Now I like all the old R&B Artist. I'm a big Isley Brothers fan. ConFunkShun, Aretha Franklin, I love those old groups.
Q - So were you born and raised in Ruston, LA.?
Brooks - Yes, I was born in raised in Ruston, Louisiana.
Q - When you were a little boy, what did you want to grow up to be?
Brooks - I always wanted to be an athlete. Growing up, when I played baseball I
wanted to be Satchel Paige. When I was playing football I wanted to be Jim Brown. On defense I always wanted to be like Mean Joe Green. Those guys were kinda my idols growing up. I also idolized Muhammad Ali. Just some of the guys who made it big in sports. They were all an inspiration to me.
Q - Did you play multiple sports at Ruston High School?
Brooks - I pretty much played everything. Basketball, football, and track. I was All-State in track and in football. My shot put record still stands there today. I threw it like 60 feet and it still stands over 30 years later. On the football team I played both ways. I played offensive guard and defensive end. So I never came off the field.
Q - Could you share any team and/or personal sports accomplishments that you were a part of in high school?
Brooks - I played two years of high school ball during my junior and senior year. Both years
I was All-State. My senior year we went 15-0 and won the State Title. It was Ruston's first time winning the State Championship in over 25 years. We had a great team and a great coach, Jimmy "Chick" Childress. He ended up winning three or four more State Championships after I left. He ended up becoming one of the greatest high school coaches in the history of Louisiana. My senior year we helped turn the program around and the rest is history. Bert Jones and I were the first two to go to LSU from Ruston. A lot of other guys from Ruston began to follow, like Kyle Williams, Jack Hunt, Ray Parker is on the team right now.
Q - Can you tell us a little about how your high school recruiting went?
Brooks - I was highly recruited and I had a lot of schools after me. I really wasn't that big in high school. I was only like 210 lbs. But I was known for my strength and my speed. Some of those schools wanted me to play nose guard because I was so strong. Some of them wanted me to play linebacker and some wanted me to play defensive end. I was being recruited by a lot of SEC teams. Arkansas, Ole Miss, Miss. State, Miami. A lot of big schools were coming after me. My hometown school, Louisiana Tech wanted me really bad.
But being a young kid who never really left home, I wanted to stay in the State of
Louisiana. That's why I chose LSU. It was the best school, the biggest school, and I knew LSU played on TV. I always wanted to play on television. LSU also had a great reputation for recruiting players from North Louisiana at the time. So that kind of helped me fit in and I felt right at home.
One of my high school rivals, Toby Caston who played at Neville, always wanted to play football with me. He was highly recruited also and would call me wanting us to meet. He would tell me.. "Man, Lets go play college football together. With you and me together, we would have a pretty good team." .... We did and the rest is history...
Q - So you were recruited by Jerry Stovall and ended up being coached by Bill Arnsparger. Could you tell us a little about each of those coaches?
Brooks - Stovall was a tough coach. He ran us like crazy in practice. I never thought that it would be that hard playing football. We would run everyday. We would hit every drill and it was just all out, non-stop. It was like live action all the time. It was the first time I ever experienced something like that. It put a lot of pressure on you as far as being in shape and being conditioned. A lot of guys were complaining about all the work, the lifting, the running, then we were losing on top of that. My freshman year we only won like two or three games. Everyone felt that he was working us too hard.
Well, Jerry ended up getting fired and Bill came in. With Arnsparger it was totally different. The workouts were totally different. It was more professional. Bill brought that NFL style to LSU which the players accepted a lot better. When Bill would walk in the room, all the horse playing would stop. You could hear a pin drop.
Everyone had heard about him from the NFL and he immediately earned everyone's respect.
A lot of players didn't have that same respect for Stovall and his staff the way they did for Bill. He never raised his voice. He would never yell or scream at you. He was a calm man and he knew the game of football.
He really expanded me as an athlete and as a linebacker, because when Stovall was there
all they had me do was rush the passer. When Bill came in, he changed the defense that had me dropping in coverage and expanded me as a linebacker. It improved my vision. I could start to see the entire field and see what it was like to be an actual linebacker. He taught me how to be a linebacker and how to be a professional. He taught us how to carry ourselves, how to play, and how to handled yourself on the football field. He taught us how to be a man and to take on responsibilities.
I owe a lot to him. When I hurt my knee my senior year I went to see him and he had AJ Duhe in his office with him. I asked him his opinion on what I should do. Should I go pro or come back next year for a medical redshirt season? He said.. "Michael I think you should move onto the NFL. You have done everything you need to do on the college level. I think you need to go pro."
I respected and loved the man so much, I took his advice and went pro.
He came to see me play a couple of games in the NFL. We were playing the Seattle
Seahawks and Mike Nolan, who is the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys now was coaching me at the time. He told me that Bill was coming to the game to see me. Well, I broke the Denver record for most tackles in a game that day. I must of had 20 tackles. ... Before the game I said, "My coach is coming to see me, I need to play good for my coach.".... I just had to show him that I was playing the game the way that it should be played and the way that he taught me. I still think about that to this day. Bill was the best.
Q - Want to tell us about some of your favorite game memories from when you were a LSU Tiger?
Brooks - I have a couple of game that stick out. I remember one time we played Kentucky
in Baton Rouge and beat them 10-0. Kentucky was always a tough team to play. They always had a good defensive line and would always put nine and ten players in the box making it hard to run against them. They played us really hard that night. I intercepted a pass and ran it in for a touchdown. The guys came and picked me up and carried me off the field. that was a nice memory.
Then another is when we went to California to play USC. We had heard all about USC and all of their great athletes. A lot of the guys were excited about playing in the Coliseum. We were so ready to play those guys. We went over there and killed them 23-3. I had two or three sacks. That was one of the best games that I've played.
Another was when we beat Notre Dame in South Bend. They had beat us in Tiger Stadium the season before, but we got our revenge 10-7. They had a lot of great athletes. It was a great team win.
One thing about LSU and our team's back then, if you beat us one year, we are going to beat you the next. We weren't going to loose to you twice in a row. We just wouldn't let that happen. We had a lot of pride in ourselves and we had so much talent on those defenses like Henry Thomas, Roland Barbay, Ricky Chapman, Jeffery Dale, Shawn Burks. I always liked the defense that we had and the great athletes we had on our teams.
Q - Tell us what your NFL Draft Day experience was like?
Brooks - I was at home when I was drafted in the 3rd round. I didn't have a draft party. It
was just my mom, sister, my nephew, and myself. My knee injury was pretty severe, so that dropped me down from being projected as a top five pick, into the 2nd round. I really wasn't concerned about that, I just wanted to be drafted by a good organization. Matter of fact, with my draft stock dropping, I felt that put me in a better situation to be drafted by a good football team.
I had a dream the night before the draft that Denver drafted me. I didn't tell anyone about the dream until after the Broncos drafted me in the 3rd round. Going to Denver turned out to be a match made in heaven.
Even though my knee was still injured and bothering me, they never rushed me out onto
the field. I had to do extra rehab training everyday starting at 6am. The trainer there was Steve Antonopulos, who is still there today. This guy worked me hard everyday, two hours before practice. Then I would go to team practice, our workouts, and lift weights. Then go back to the training room and work even more on the leg and knee. This guy worked me so hard everyday. I hated him everyday. He pushed me and pushed me. We had this Cybex Machine that put a lot of emphasis on and around your knee. I ended up breaking that machine one day. Steve told me that there was only one other guy that broke this machine and he was just as strong and powerful as I was. I asked who that was and he answered, Lyle Alzado. But I'm so glad Steve pushed me, pushed me, pushed me so hard every single day. If it wasn't for him I probably wouldn't of come back as strong as I did. I came back 100% and was able to play at a high level.
Dan Reeves was my head coach in Denver. He drafted me and brought me in there. Joe Collier was the defensive coordinator. He was an old school guy and was known for creating the Broncos' Orange Crush defense. So I went from playing for Bill Arnsparger, who was a great defensive coordinator to another great one in the NFL. I always had great defensive guys around me. Great defensive coaches that I learned a lot from.
Joe Collier was a lot like Bill. He was smart, and he never did yell or scream at you. He ran multiple defenses. We had to learn the entire defensive scheme. We had to know what everyone on the defense was doing. He gave us test every week about every position and we had to answer what each guy was doing. How each position was lining up. How they were dropping into coverage. We had to know everything about that defense. He was a smart guy and his defense was based on that. You had to know what everyone else was doing so you could do your job and know where your help was coming from on the football field. You had to study your playbook and you couldn't just play off of your athletic ability. You had to be a thinker also. You had to know what you were doing to play in that defense. It put a lot of pressure on you mentally. It was tough to learn, but we all jelled and ended up playing in a couple of Super Bowls. We lost both times, but we were able to get there and we had the best defense in the League a couple of times. I was so lucky to have the defensive coaches that I've had. When Joe left Denver, we ended up getting Wade Phillips. Phillips was another great defensive coordinator. I ended making All-Pro as a linebacker under Wade Phillips' aggressive style defense.
Q - Can you tell us what it's like to play in a couple of Super Bowls?
Brooks - I made it to the Super Bowl my rookie year. We were lucky enough to have a good enough team to make it because 1987 was a strike year in the NFL. When the strike was over we were able to jell as a team, win those last four/five games, advance to the playoffs, and go to the Super Bowl in Pasadena. It was very exciting to be there on the football field, watching those jets fly over the stadium. Seeing guys tear up and cry while they played the National Anthem. Seeing all the fans in the stands, photographers and TV cameras on the field. It was just amazing. I couldn't wait to get out there and play. Our emotions were at an all-time high. It was an exciting experience.
Q - How did you end up leaving Denver for the New York Giants?
Brooks - It happened in 1992. First off it started with Dan Reeves being fired. He became the
head coach for the New York Giants. Then that was the year the NFL started the Franchise and
Transitional Players Tag. The Franchise player was payed based on the top five highest payed players at that position. Well, they tagged John Elway with that tag. They tagged me with the Transitional Tag. That pays you based on the top ten at your position. Denver basically was hoping everyone else would end up not having a lot of money left after they signed everyone they wanted. Then they were going to drop the Transitional Tag off of me and try to sign me for cheap. When the Broncos dropped me as the Transitional Player making me a free agent, the Giants immediately flew me to New York and wanted to sign me. The Giants great GM George Young had someone pick me up at the airport and brought me to a restaurant to eat with Mr. Young. He started to tell me that he wanted to bring me in and sign me to play with them. I thought that was great because I've always wanted to play with Lawrence Taylor, who was my idol and with Dan Reeves now being there, it was a great situation for me. So now I'm playing for my old coach, with a new team, and with a guy that I have always idolized. I couldn't wait to sign with them.
I want to tell you another story. When I signed with New York, they gave me Harry Carson's number, #53. At the time he wasn't in the Hall of Fame yet. He would come out to watch practice and look at me wearing his number and he would look at me like I was crazy. So I didn't want to wear his number anymore. I went to our trainer and said, "I'm tired of that man looking at me like that for having his old number, give me my college number, #94." ... I didn't want Harry Carson looking at me like that anymore.....
Another story to tell you is I had just signed my contract, it was my second day of practice, and I was sitting in the Giants locker room. Lawrence Taylor came in the locker room and was on the offensive side of the room. Both rooms were separated. He started throwing chairs and was cursing. He was upset because for the Giants to sign me, they had to release Pepper Johnson and Carl Banks. Those guys had been with the team over ten years and both were All-Pros. Here I am excited to be playing for the Giants and excited to be able to play with Lawrence Taylor, and Taylor is throwing chairs and I could hear him screaming, "Who the hell is this Michael Brooks?" .... Here I am sitting in front of my locker listening to this. Everyone was afraid of him, moving out of the way, not saying anything to him. .. It was strange going to another team, replacing a couple of their star players. Guys don't know you or want to talk to you. You really have to earn everyone's respect. I had to show them that I was a good player and that's why the organization brought me in there. After that we became good friends. Our first meeting wasn't too good but I understand it. So that's what happened the first time I met Lawrence Taylor.
Q - When did you decide that it was time to retire from football?
Brooks - When I left the Giants I had just finished my ninth season and my old knee
injury started to bother me. It had gotten to a point where I had pains shooting through my leg. I wasn't sure how much longer I would be able to play this game. Playing on that turf in Giants stadium really took a toll on me. I would think to myself that maybe I didn't want to play anymore, but I went to Detroit because of a guy there named Larry Lee. Lee was a guy who I played for in Denver and he was now over player personnel for the Lions. He called me and talked me into flying to Detroit to meet with the coach. I told them that I wasn't sure if I could still play. My body wasn't recovering as fast as it use too. But they still offered me a two year contract. I wasn't sure if I wanted to sign, but at the time they had Henry Thomas, Corey Raymond, who is the DB coach at LSU right now, and also played in New York with me. So with two of my old LSU teammates there I decided I would give it one more chance. Detroit also had just let Chris Speilman go and they were looking for someone to replace him. Someone who could come in and be a leader and run the defense. So they signed me to replace Chris. I ended up hurting my knee in training camp and missed some time.
Then my mother got sick with cancer around November of that year. Once my mother had
cancer I just didn't feel like playing football anymore. I told Wayne Fontes "My mother is sick. I need to go home and take care of her." ... My father died of cancer when I was 16 years old. So if something would happen to my mother, I was going to be there to take care of her. I was going to make sure she had the best doctors and had anything that she needed. So I left football to go home to take care of my mother. She ended up passing away three months later. I was able to go home and spend those last three months with her.
I was 30 years old and retired when my mom passed, but three years later I still had NFL teams calling me. Dan Reeves went to Atlanta and had Michael Vick as his quarterback. He called me up and wanted me to come back and play for him. I told him that I'm 33 years old and that I haven't played in three years. He told me to think about it, that I could come back and make a lot of money. I ended going to New Orleans to see coach and trainer Tom Shaw. He trained a lot of Pro-athletes in the New Orleans area. I wanted to workout for Coach Shaw and see if I still had the legs to make a comeback. He told me that my knee was in such bad shape that I would need to have surgery before I could go back and play in the NFL. At 33 years old, no way I was having surgery. I decided I was done. I wasn't going to risk anything with a comeback. I had Dennis Green calling me to come back. I had Bill Belichick wanting me to come to the Cleveland Browns. The Jets were trying to bring me back. I finally had to send a letter to the NFL stating that I was officially retired so teams would stop contacting me. I always wanted to play at least 15 years in the NFL. But that was all that I could do.
Q - Can you tell us what life after football has been like for you?
Brooks - Losing my mom at 30 years old was a big blow for me. I went into a state
of depression for around two years. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I didn't care what happened to me. I didn't want to live and I was in a bad place at that time. My mother was my best friend. We would talk several times a day and remember that after she died, I would still pick up the phone and call her and wonder why my mother wasn't answering the phone. Then it would hit me that she was gone. So it would take me awhile to get over it. I was just close to her. I missed her so much. It took me some time to get myself together, my mind back on track and together again.
After I got back on track and slipped out of the depression, I ended up opening some businesses. I got involved in real estate. I was building apartments. I was buying homes and flipping them. I started to enjoy being around people again and began to open up again like I use too.
Then about seven years ago my wife talked me into going get a check up. I did and was told that I had cancer. Now that scared the hell out of me. I had lost my parents and two brothers from cancer. All of them died pretty quickly, an average of three months, after being diagnosed. I had doctors tell me that I was going to die and there was nothing that they could do for me. I didn't get discouraged and wouldn't believe that I was going to die at 49 years old. I ended up going to New Orleans and met a great doctor there. He told me, "Michael we are going to take care of you. We got to take it out of you. You don't want to die of this type of cancer because it's a slow death. We need to get this thing out of you." .... This doctor had a very high success rate. I decided that I wanted to live and be here for my kids and my family so I had the operation and they fixed me up. After the surgery they told me that I was cancer free.
So I'm a prostate cancer survivor. My father and two brother died of the same thing. I tell guys all the time to go get checked. It took me a long time to recover and to get back on my feet again. I was pale and losing weight. No one really knows what your going through. You have a lot of alone time. But while I was going through my recovery, I was sitting on my couch one day and I heard a voice. I didn't know if it was my mother talking to me or God. I was hoping it was both of them, but I was sitting there in a vulnerable place and I heard a voice come to me and it said. "Michael, you're saved." ... I broke down and started crying and I couldn't stop crying. I started to say, "I'm saved Lord, I'm saved, I'm saved Lord.".. I heard the voice tell me twice that I was saved. I had been afraid to close my eyes to sleep, but after I heard that voice I wasn't afraid to go to sleep anymore. I wasn't afraid of dying anymore. God told me I was saved. That's when I started going through prayers on facebook and posting them up because that's how I was feeling. Different scriptures from the Bible about having faith, courage, forgiveness, battling back, having strength, having God in your life.
With God you can do anything in this world. I would listen to these scriptures everyday.
I started feeling stronger and stronger. I started to get my confidence up. You can overcome anything if you have God in your life. I put God first in my life and he brought me through it. It's been seven years later and I'm cancer free. I can't do a lot of things that I use to do, but I'm here.
Another thing that I also did, was search for a lot of people who I did bad too. Guys in high school that I beat up and joked on. I was kind of a mean guy. I went back and apologized to those guys. I repented to everyone that I hurt. I tried to find all of them to let them know that I was sorry for what I did. All the women that I miss treated. I went back and told them all that I was sorry for the way I treated them and asked for them to forgive me. I was sorry that I was like that. Everyone that I called told me that they forgave me. It was like I was born again.
Every morning I wake up and thank God for waking me up to see another day. I'm thankful for everything that he does for me. Giving me the strength and endurance to prosper. I run at least seven to ten miles everyday. I do from 300 to 1,000 push ups everyday. I do it everyday to maintain my strength, my weight, and to stay in great physical health. Having gone through cancer, having physical health is the most important thing for you. I have learned a lot of things. I have changed my life, my diet, my habits. I try to treat people with love and how I want to be treated. To be a good husband, father, and a good grandfather to my family.
Q - Is there anything you want to tell the LSU fans?
Brooks - I love my LSU fans. I love my LSU family. I pull for the Tigers every time they run out on the field. I wish everyone the best. I wish the Tigers will have another great year this year.