Photos: Philadelphia Eagles

It’s been 2 months since announcing his retirement from the NFL, after 10 years performing at an all-star level, including 6 seasons as a Philadelphia Eagle. The tears he wept on video as he read a comprehensive, heartfelt, hand-written letter have faded, and now Brooks sees opportunity in life’s next steps. He no longer will be a 335-pound offensive guard working in the hand-to-hand combat world on a football field, but his chances for making a difference in people’s lives will be just as great in the real world.

“I’m excited about what’s ahead, because there’s a sense of the unknown,” says Brooks, a 3-time Pro Bowl player in his time with the Eagles, who said he plans to apply to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in their 3rd round of admissions.

“I gave a lot of thought to what I wanted to do next. I had a lot of injuries [shoulder, 2 Achilles tendon tears, pectoral muscle tear] the last few seasons playing and constantly rehabbing my body and pushing it to get ready for more of the same punishment. I just decided I’d had enough,” he says. “The hard part is saying goodbye to something you’ve loved your entire life. Each day I was able to get up and play football – even with all of the challenges – was a great day. Being around the guys, doing something I enjoyed so much, playing at the highest level and dominating, it was great. I cherished every bit of it.”

“But now it’s time to move on. There is a big world out there, and I have the same confidence away from the game as I did when I played. I’m going to be a factor.”

Brooks certainly was a factor on the field, particularly after the Eagles signed him as an unrestricted free agent in 2016. He had spent 4 productive but relatively undistinguished seasons with the Houston Texans after a college career at Miami (Ohio). With Houston, Brooks was a starter but he wasn’t deemed valuable enough by the Texans to retain after his rookie contract expired, so they allowed him to test the free-agency waters. Big mistake and a lack of vision from Houston. The Eagles, in the midst of a rebuild with then-new head coach Doug Pederson (see how time flies in the NFL?) targeted Brooks and viewed him as a path-opening starter to play alongside right tackle Lane Johnson. That’s exactly how it played out.

“The hard part is saying goodbye to something you’ve loved your entire life.”

Philadelphia Eagles Brandon Brooks, NFL Guard

Brooks was an immediate starter and an immediate star at right guard as he and Johnson formed the best right-side tandem in the league – Brooks earned 3 straight Pro Bowl nods, Johnson was named an All-Pro player, and the 2 were instrumental in the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII victory in 2018.

“The best,” Johnson says of his pairing with Brooks. “With our size and strength and athleticism, we destroyed defenses. It wasn’t even close. And going out there every week with Brandon, we would just laugh kicking guys’ [butts].”

Along the way, though, Brooks revealed some personal challenges that made him vulnerable – and perhaps more relatable – to fans. He missed 2 games in his first season with the Eagles due to anxiety, a personal battle he had waged his entire life. Brooks spoke openly on the subject of anxiety and mental health and received tremendous feedback – “as much about that as I ever did about football,” he says now. Brooks, and later Johnson, told stories of how they would spend the mornings of games vomiting to rid themselves of the anxiety that built up and that threatened to paralyze their ability to perform.

“That’s exactly what it did,” Brooks says. “When you feel that way, you can’t do anything. You feel like you can’t move. There is a certain sense of fear you have, and it takes over your mind and your body. It’s awful, man. Fortunately, talking about it and seeking treatment – therapy, that kind of thing – really helped me conquer what was going on. That was the only way to win, by being open and honest and talking about it. I think a lot of people don’t want to admit they have those feelings and instead of opening up about it, they keep it inside and bottle it up. That doesn’t help. It hurts, actually.”

“Missing games and not being there for my teammates was the worst part. I felt I let everybody down. But I also knew that if I didn’t find a way out of those feelings and if I didn’t seek help, it would be a constant situation for me, and I couldn’t continue to do that. I’m just like everybody else. I’m human. I’m vulnerable. It’s ok to feel that way because once you admit that and you’re honest about that, you can overcome anything. It was an important lesson for me to learn and a message that, I think, everyone can relate to: Get help. Seek treatment. It’s the only way to make it better.”

Once Brooks won that battle, he went on to greatness on the football field, starting every game for the Eagles in 2017 and 2018. But in a playoff game in early 2019 (the 2018 season) in New Orleans, Brooks blew out his right Achilles tendon. He rehabbed well enough to return for the 2019 opening game, but then he suffered a severe shoulder injury in the final game of the regular season. Months into his rehab, Brooks tore his left Achilles tendon and missed the entire 2020 season. A full year of rehabilitation had him ready to go for 2021, but 2 games into the season Brooks suffered a chest injury and never returned.

“I had full confidence that I would come back and I would be the best, because that’s the way I am and that’s what I believe,” Brooks says. “I don’t want to say it was a moment of clarity, but at what point do you listen to your body? It’s one thing to have 1 or 2 big injuries. But I’m having injury after injury, so at what point do I listen? When I blow out my knee? Or when something crazy happens? It’s the right time. I leave this game in peace, and I’m excited about what’s next. I want to help people. I want to be great in everything I do.”

We often wonder what happens when players leave the game. It isn’t an easy transition for people who have been on a schedule their entire lives. Now they have all the time in the world, and there is nobody to tell them where to be and what to do when they get there.

Brooks is ready for that transition.

“It’s kinda nice, you know?” he says. “I can reinvent myself. I’m going to enjoy that challenge.”


Philadelphia Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

Spadaro has covered every Eagles game since 1987 and is seen and heard throughout the year on television, radio and Eagles coverage everywhere. You can hear his Eagles Live Podcast on iTunes.

March 2022
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