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Friday, September 3
Up Close with Robert Brooks

Robert Brooks, who announced his retirement from the NFL on Monday, was Gary Miller's guest Wednesday on ESPN's Up Close.

Brooks played in pain for much of his seven-year career with the Green Bay Packers. He came back from a severe knee injury in 1996 and has undergone two back operations in the last 12 months. Brooks told Miller that he still loves the game but "during one play, I feel like the old Robert Brooks, and then the next play I feel terrible. That's the tough thing; I struggled with that. All of the 1998 season I struggled with that."

The following are more excerpts of Brooks' interview.

Miller: Saturday you told (Packers head coach) Ray Rhodes (that you were retiring). After looking great in training camp, what happened?

Brooks: You know what I think happened . . . At the first mini-camp, I practiced a couple of days and looked good and then I left. And the reason I left was because I was just in a lot of pain. I think my pride was continuing to make me go out there and want to play and want to have a great season. But inside, physically, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't uphold that tough guy image anymore so I left the first mini-camp.

At the second mini-camp, I came back and I went to see a specialist and the first thing the doctor asked me was if I have ever had some type of severe injury to my legs or ankles, or knees or anything. He said, "That's probably what's affecting your back." And once I understood that I thought, "OK, my back won't be a problem, I'm going to get back to work and get back to the best shape I possibly can be in." And that's what I did and I felt really good and that's what I did going into the next mini-camp. I came out, worked hard, and felt really good about it, but after practice is what was devastating.

Miller: Knee, back, hamstring, everything?

Brooks: I think after I found out my knee was probably the culprit, because the mechanics in my knee are different. When I injured my knee a few years ago and I came back, it was miraculous that I came back the following season. But what happened was that I knocked off some of my bone, and the bone didn't come back so it was bone on bone in there.

It was something that I just dealt with; there was a certain level of pain that I knew I'd always have to deal with . . . I never said anything about it but slowly but surely, the back started tightening and my back started getting worse and worse. Now I understand my knee probably was the culprit.

Miller: Because Antonio Freeman is holding out, how tough was it to make your decision, considering there is no established receiver left in Green Bay?

Brooks: I'll tell you one thing: when I was coming up in the footsteps of Sterling Sharpe, one thing that helped me is that the coaches put their confidence in me. I think it got to the point where there was nobody else, and they had to pass the baton to Robert Brooks so they said, "let's just see what he does." When they made the decision and said, "Hey, we're counting on you, you're the guy, we're going to give you the ball," my confidence soared. I think that's what they're gonna have to do with one of the young guys. They're gonna have to make a decision early and say, "Hey, you're our guy and we're gonna get you the football" and that guy will bloom, he'll blossom.

 Robert Brooks
For Robert Brooks, the pain was too severe to ignore.
Miller: Have you talked to Antonio Freeman at all, how tough is it for him missing camp?

Brooks: I think Antonio really wants to get back to playing. He wants to get there, he probably just misses the guys a lot. Antonio is a great person, all the guys on the team just love him to death. I call him the "Duck."

Miller: Why is that?

Brooks: He runs like a duck, he waddles. I think the first time he jumped in the stands he ran a punt return back and he waddled the whole way, like a duck, so we started calling him "Duck" from then on. I know he really wants to get back out there and play.

Miller: Is it hard for you knowing how much you would love to play, wishing your body could conform to your mind?

Brooks: That's the tough thing, because mentally I go out there and during one play, I feel like the old Robert Brooks, and then the next play I feel terrible. That's the tough thing; I struggled with that. All of the 1998 season I struggled with that.

Even just the other day when I finally made the decision, I struggled with that . . . Some parts of practice I felt great and other parts of practice I found myself asking Sherman (Lewis, the Packers offensive coordinator) to flip-flop plays because I didn't want to run a play a certain way because my knees were hurting, or didn't want to run a certain route because of the pounding I was taking on my back. And when it gets to that point, it's time to call it quits.

Miller: Your stats are amazing, only dropping the ball 26 times out of 700, but when you started to drop balls in practice you knew something was wrong?

Brooks: One thing I thought about, and something I think about right now is that when we were at practice on Friday morning, I dropped two balls in a row and it wasn't because I wasn't concentrating, but because I was hurting and I think Sherm knew. And Sherm made a comment, "I've never seen you drop three balls in a row." I came back two plays later and dropped my third ball.

And that's not me, catching the ball was something that was easy for me . . . I played the entire 1998 season on medication and that's something I can't continue to do. After putting all that through my mind and thinking about it, I knew it was the right time.

Miller: Is a Brett Favre ball easy to catch?

Brooks: Brett's got a bullet for an arm, it's tough. I've broken a lot of fingers messing with that guy. I had to get my wedding ring custom-fitted and I'm waiting for it to come back right now because Brett broke my ring finger about three times, the same finger. He takes pride in that. He chalks up how many fingers he gets during training camp.

Miller: Coming in lean and mean, do you think this will be one of Brett Favre's best seasons yet?

Brooks: I think so. I think his best football is yet to come. Brett's playing on sheer talent. When this guy sits down and really starts reading defenses . . . You know, he hardly ever takes a drop. He's just throwing the ball, just having fun, and doing his thing because that comes natural to him. That's the funny thing about Brett, because what's gonna happen when this guy really buckles down and starts becoming a student of the game, it's gonna be unbelievable.

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