Friday, January 01, 2010

Brooking ignites Dallas with fiery pregame huddle

By Jaime Aron
The Associated Press

IRVING, Texas — A few minutes before kickoff against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys will form a big circle around linebacker Keith Brooking, giving him their full attention.

In his 12th NFL season, Brooking could offer all sorts of insight, maybe a final few words of wisdom to keep everyone focused on what's at stake.

But that's not his thing.

Brooking will start ranting and raving like a revivalist preacher trying to save souls and convert nonbelievers. He'll holler things that demand words of affirmation to be hollered back. There will probably be some jumping up and down and maybe some body slamming, all in the name of motivation.

Could this pregame pep session be a secret reason why the Cowboys have a chance to win the division?

"Who knows?" Brooking acknowledged. "When toe meets leather, are you remembering that? Probably not. But at the end of the day it is an emotional game, and if that little bit of spark may help us a little bit, I'm all for it."

Here's how it went last Sunday, before the Cowboys played the Redskins in Washington, courtesy of NBC cameras and YouTube:

"This is all we need!" Brooking screams twice, his helmet off, head bobbing and eyes bulging as he shuffles around the middle of the circle, teammates responding to each line with cries of "Yeah!"

"We're gonna keep hitting 'em!" he screams twice, followed by more cries of "Yeah!"

"They might get back up. Then we're gonna hit 'em again!" he continues, now moving in faster circles. "And when they're barely hanging on ..."

"What're we gonna do?" screams running back Tashard Choice, setting up Brooking for his frenzied finish.

"We're gonna hit 'em in the mouth! We're gonna bloody their nose! We're gonna knock 'em to the ground!" Brooking says, drawing cheers and laughs as players close it by bashing into each other.

This ritual has been going on for weeks, although somewhat under the radar. Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis didn't even know about it, finding out only because he was watching the Redskins game from a hospital room when NBC showed the clip during the second quarter Sunday night.

"That was an interesting deal, that's for sure," DeCamillis said. "He got them jacked up, and that's what it's all about."

DeCamillis wasn't surprised, though, because he coached Brooking for many years in Atlanta before being reunited this season. He knows that Brooking is the rare guy who at 34 plays with the excitement of someone half his age.

The Falcons, however, thought Brooking was too old to keep playing linebacker in a young man's game, so they let him go after last season. Cowboys coach Wade Phillips disagreed and signed him to play on first and second downs, figuring his attitude would be nice to have, too.

Brooking started out relatively low-key until he started making plays all over the field — pressuring quarterbacks, breaking up passes, chasing down younger running backs from behind. Then out came his wild side, much to the delight of teammates and fans.

Around midseason, the club began using him to ratchet up the noise at home games. The final thing shown on the massive video boards before kickoff is a close-up of Brooking staring out and saying, "It's 80,000 of us against 11 of them," then cutting to a shot of the visitors, drawing boos and helping whip the crowd into a frenzy.

About the same time, Choice — another vocal, emotional leader — began encouraging Brooking to lead the club in a pregame "breakdown," a pump-it-up session used by many teams. It went over so well they do it every week.

"I'm just like, 'OK, Brook. It's time,'" Choice said.

Teammates say it works so well because of how genuine it is coming from Brooking.

"You can definitely see the passion pouring right out of him," receiver Miles Austin said.

"If it was just something he had to do, a lot of us would take it as a joke because we are grown men," added receiver Sam Hurd. "But when you look into his eyes, you can tell it's something he really feels and you want to get on the same level he is."

Hurd, Choice and even Austin are relatively young guys, the kind more prone to buying into college-like enthusiasm.

But receiver Roy Williams, in his sixth year, gets a kick out of it, too.

"I was one of those guys that was in the back when he gets going," Williams said. "Now I'm one of those guys in the middle when he gets going."

The only person complaining about it all might be Holly Brooking, Keith's wife.

After seeing the clip on TV Sunday night, "she's like, 'I don't know if I know that guy,'" Brooking said, laughing.