In his rookie season--way back in 1998-1999--Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking went to Super Bowl XXXIII the Atlanta Falcons only to fall to the John Elway-led Denver Broncos, who sent their quarterback into retirement in style, with a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy. That was 12 seasons ago, and Brooking hasn't been back since.
A return to the NFL's promised land, Brooking said recently, was a major factor in his decision to come to Dallas. According to a post on the Dallas Morning News' Cowboys Blog, he, along with veterans Jon Kitna (13 seasons) and Flozell Adams (12 seasons), have taken on an increased leadership role in anticipation of what Wade Phillips calls a second season.
Their message, like most delivered over the course of the year by Brooking, is simple and clear: Don't take anything for granted.
"It's a very big reason why I came here," Brooking said. "I knew what we had, the opportunities we had...This is the only reason you play the game, to be in these positions, and it's all at stake right now."
For Phillips, this time of year was likely a great motivator in his attempts to land Brooking this off-season. The 33-year-old linebacker provides the emotional leadership that is so invaluable around playoff time, and was seen as lacking in years past.
Indeed, the presence of Brooking, in and of itself, represents a solid reason why these Cowboys are different from recent editions. They hope to continue to separate themselves from disappointments past on Saturday night, in the first round of the playoffs.
"This time of year, things pick up significantly, not that you're not giving your best throughout the course of the season. But for our young guys, they need to realize real quick--guys who haven't been in this position--that things are going to pick up significantly and you better pick up with it and you better not leave a stone unturned.
"If you don't have that mentality, you're going to get left behind because I know what this locker room's about, and you're going to get our best shot this week.