"He's a great ballplayer and a great leader," Stephen Nicholas said. "When you've been in the league 11 or 12 years, there are things you've seen that young guys haven't, on the field and in the film room. He's definitely a guy with a lot of wisdom and know-how and the good thing for the rest of us is he's spreading it around."
Nicholas, in this quote from a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, was talking about teammate Mike Peterson, a veteran linebacker who came to Atlanta this off-season, replacing Keith Brooking; but he might just as easily have been describing Brooking himself.
The similarities between the two, particularly in the way teammates describe them, are almost eerie. Coming to their new teams in 2009, Brooking and Peterson have provided a spark usually associated with youth; yet they both have more than a decade of NFL experience under their belt.
Writers in Atlanta have lauded the acquisition of Peterson, who came over from Jacksonville after six seasons, as much for his intangibles as his on-field ability; and this is no indictment of his on-field ability. Peterson is second on the team in tackles, with 43.
Brooking, who leads Dallas in tackles, came to the team this off-season under nearly identical circumstances. The 33 year-old, after 11 seasons in Atlanta, reunited with wade Phillips, under whom he garnered two Pro Bowl appearances and a second-team All-Pro selection. (Peterson played under head coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder in Jacksonville).
Like Peterson, Brooking was quick to gain a fan base within the locker room. "He came in with the attitude that he wanted to work and just be a great teammate," said Jay Ratliff. "He plays with a lot of emotion and we just feed off of that. You can't help but follow a guy like that."
Added Bradie James, "He's added fire. He's added passion. He's very productive. I'm just happy that we got Atlanta's seconds."
In many ways, it seems that Brooking's impact on the Cowboys has been the same as Peterson's on the Falcon's, who are coming off a win over Chicago in what was a decidedly defensive game. On Sunday though, Brooking will look to prove to his old team that the similarities are limited, that letting him go after 11 years--regardless of his replacement--was a costly mistake.