Brandon Brooks didn’t wallow. He didn’t complain, he didn’t whine. Brooks was smiling the day after tearing his Achilles tendon in January as he talked about how much he looked forward to his rehab.
Don’t misunderstand it. Tearing his Achilles sucked and there’s no way around that. But it happened, it was over, and he decided instead to put all his energy into rehab.
“What I’m gonna do, man?” Brooks asked on Wednesday. “Be sad about this s—?”
He never was. Not for a second.
And after Brooks on Monday was rewarded with a four-year extension worth over $56 million less than 10 months after suffering the injury, his recovery has become an incredible example of just how powerful positivity can be.
“Really, to be honest with you, you talk about mind over matter, that had to have something to do with it,” offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said this week. “His attitude was so incredibly positive from the minute he got hurt right on through. I think that had a big part in it.”
The initial mindset
Brooks tore his Achilles on Jan. 13, 2019 and played in the Eagles’ season opener this season on Sept. 8, 2019. Less than eight months.
That was always his plan. While others doubted how quickly a 330-pound man could recover from a serious Achilles injury, Brooks never did. His goal was always to be ready for Week 1 and he worked toward it. To top it off, Brooks’ second goal was to return as an even better player than he left. He did that, too.
“From the second you f— something up, it goes like this,” Brooks said Wednesday with prayer hands as he separated them to take different paths.
Presumably, one of those paths went down a road of self pity. That’s a longer road and one filled with wallowing and a bunch of people who aren’t going to feel sorry for you. Brooks went down the expressway to recovery.
And all those doubters? Brooks heard them too. He heard folks question not just whether or not he’d be ready for the opener, but whether he’d be a significant contributor throughout the next season.
“To me, it was never in doubt if I was gonna play in 2019,” Brooks said in July. “It was never in doubt that I wasn’t going to miss half the season. That was never a thought in my mind.”
Putting in the work
The first call Brooks made after tearing his Achilles was to his former teammate Arian Foster. Then he called veteran NFL lineman Terrell Suggs. He wanted to talk to guys who had been through the same injury.
And, for the most part, he wanted to talk to guys who had successfully rehabbed back from the injury, guys who had done it quickly or who had returned to a high level of play after it. Suggs is perhaps one of the best examples of a player returning from an Achilles tear quickly.
“What were you doing? How did you feel?” Brooks said of the questions he’d ask them. “And I probably annoyed the s— out of some of these guys.”
That also includes Dr. Robert Anderson, who did Brooks’ surgery. Anderson would routinely receive a call from Brooks once every couple of days, when Brooks would continually ask Anderson to clear him for more and more activity.
During the offseason, Brooks was at the NovaCare Complex four days per week, arriving at around 9 a.m. and he worked hard. Each day, he would do a ton of upper body lifting and work on his left leg. Just his right, still recovering from surgery, was off limits for a while. A lot of hours were logged with Eagles assistant athletic trainer Steven Feldman, whom Brooks calls “Stevo," and Stevo was responsible for making sure Brooks didn’t push the envelope too much.
Fletcher Cox remembers the first day after Brooks’ surgery, when he showed up to the training room ready to work and everyone else “was like, ‘nah, man, you have a while.’”
The support system
That’s not to say there weren’t bad days or at least bad moments. There were. Brooks is human, after all.
When those bad days came, his parents, Dorothy Brooks and Robert Parker, were there to listen.
“Parents are supposed to do that, I guess,” Brooks said. “Cheer you up.”
And then there was Stoutland and Lane Johnson, former teammate Duane Brown, Anderson, Foster, Suggs, Stevo and plenty more friends and teammates that created a support system.
That included his teammates who spent the offseason with him rehabbing. One of them was Cox, who also needed surgery from an injury suffered in the Saints playoff game.
“We pushed each other,” Cox said. “Obviously, we were here the whole offseason, every day, 9, 10 o’clock in the offseason, trying to get back on the field because we know what we meant to this team. We know that this team wanted us back. We needed to get back on the field.”
The pay off
Brooks, 30, was eventually cleared to play in the Eagles’ 2019 opener, but it was a little closer than you might realize.
“Honestly, it was up in the air as far as me playing Week 1,” Brooks said on Wednesday. “A lot of people don’t know that. I just tried to lobby my case. I get it, you guys are the trainers and I have respect for the medical staff. But me personally, how I feel and what I’ve been able to do, I got it. And I get it, a lot of guys probably tell you they got it and they go out there and they don’t got it. But all the stuff I was doing in the summer, all the agility drills, all the other stuff. I’m like, ‘yo, if I can do all this, I can definitely play Week 1.’”
Brooks, of course, was right.
He was on a pitch count in Week 1 and smashed it. He was supposed to play just 30 snaps against the Redskins but ended up playing 55 and could have finished the game. Since then, he’s played every offensive snap for the Birds and is in the middle of what will surely be a third consecutive Pro Bowl nod. He’s in the middle of the best season of his career.
To be playing within eight months of the injury is one thing. But to be playing at an even higher level than his former Pro Bowl level is another.
“I think everybody is a little bit in awe, like ‘holy cow,’” Stoutland said. “But, to be honest with you, am I surprised? Not the way I saw him over the summer. I saw him with this mission-from-God approach. Really. So I’m not really surprised by it.”
Neither is Brooks. He always knew he’d be OK.
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