In August, Keith Brooking stood outside Dove Valley with sweat dripping from his thick brow. The Mile High sun beat on his black hair as he high-fived teammates entering the cooled building.
“Circumstances had to be right for me,” Brooking said then. “I wanted to play for a contender. This team was right up there on the list so it worked out great, the first team that called him (his agent) and wanted to work me out so I was excited about it. I told them I’d go ahead and book my flight, they don’t have to book it to get me here.”
Those were Brooking’s thoughts after his first practice with the Broncos. Five months and 13 wins later, Brooking couldn’t be more happy with his 15th season in the league, at least for now.
“As a player, at this point in my career, just speaking for me personally, this what I live for,” Brooking said after Tuesday’s practice. “This is what it’s all about. There is nothing like playoff football. Saying that, I’ve been victim to this, I’ll admit it – to being too intense, letting your emotions get the best of you, kind of take you out of your game, take you away from your focus.”
Brooking went all the way to the Super Bowl in his rookie year with the Atlanta Falcons. Of course, that was the year that the Broncos beat Atlanta to win their second straight championship. After that, Brooking went to the playoffs three more times with the Falcons, and once with the 11-5 Dallas Cowboys in 2009 where the team beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the wildcard round, but then lost to the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round.
Put it this way: Brooking could set up an advice stand at Broncos’ headquarters like Charlie Browns’ Lucy. His sign would read, “Playoff Help: The Doctor is in.”
“Just go out there and play football,” Brooking said. “At the end of the day, it’s another football game, but the intensity will be increased. The emotion will be increased. There is no doubt about that, but you still have to stay within yourself. Not allow that to take you out of your game. There is a fine line there. You don’t prepare any differently. If anything, you do it more – the preparation. You just do what has gotten you to this point in the season and put us in a position to win right now.”
Preached and practiced like a true veteran, Brooking is one of the guys leading the way. Along with play on the field, he’s developing the defense’s collective emotional intelligence so that the team can make a deep playoff run and not lose any steam from the 11-game winning streak.
“As long as we take care of what’s in-house here, we feel like we give ourselves a really good chance,” Brooking said. “That’s been our mindset all week and that’s been our mindset all season. That will not change, that won’t vary one bit.”
The 6’2″, 240-pound linebacker out of Georgia Tech was sought after by the Broncos because the team needed experience and depth at the position while D.J. Williams served his nine-gmae suspension. Brooking came through with a solid season of 54 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble.
“We had him in for a workout and thought he looked outstanding,” John Fox said right after the team signed Brooking in August.
Now that it’s January, ‘outstanding’ has a whole new meaning.