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| Posted: Mon Feb 1st, 2010 06:58 pm||1st Post||
|Tom Brookshier was born in Roswell, N.M., and attended the University of Colorado, but in every way imaginable, he was a Philly guy. He loved the city and he loved the fans and they loved him. It was a beautiful marriage that spanned more than half a century.
Older fans knew Brookshier as an All-Pro cornerback for the Eagles and one of the leaders on the 1960 world championship team. Younger fans knew him as a fixture on NFL broadcasts. But the point is everybody knew him. He was that kind of guy.
Brookshier passed away late Friday after a long battle with cancer. He was 78. The news shocked the city because it was just hard to imagine him gone. He was a part of our lives for so long that we thought he’d always be there, standing on the sidelines at Eagles training camp or holding court at a Maxwell Club dinner, telling stories and linking the past to the present as only he could.
It was impossible for Brookshier to walk anywhere in the city without someone calling his name, shaking his hand or reliving the championship game against Green Bay. He was unfailingly gracious, always stopping to talk, reminisce, sign an autograph or pose for a picture.
I grew up watching him as a player and later had the chance to work alongside him at Comcast SportsNet. It was a thrill to sit next to him and talk football. He had a wealth of knowledge, but more than that, he had a passion for the game that was unmatched. He had no use for players who didn’t give their all.
I can only imagine what Brookshier must have said last season as he watched Asante Samuel pirouette to avoid making a tackle. I sat next to him many Sundays and heard him yell, “Hit somebody.” That was how he played and that’s why the city embraced him for a lifetime.
Brookshier played most of his career in the 1950s and that was an era when defensive backs were allowed to play a physical game. They could jam receivers and bully them all over the field. That was Brookshier’s game. He was 6-0 and 195 pounds, a big man for that era, and he was tough as a nickel steak.
Brookshier tackled the old-fashioned way; he went low and wrapped his arms around the ball carrier’s ankles. It didn’t matter if it was Jim Brown, Jim Taylor or a rookie free agent, he was going down. Brown, the greatest running back in league history, called Brookshier the best tackler he ever faced. That’s good enough for me.
“I played against a lot of Hall of Famers,” Brookshier once said, “but they didn’t make the Hall of Fame the days I played against them.”
Brookshier was a 10th-round draft pick in 1953 and intercepted eight passes as a rookie. He spent the next two years in the Air Force and rejoined the team in 1956. He started at cornerback for the next six seasons, helping the Eagles win the world championship in 1960. They defeated Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers 17-13 at Franklin Field.
Brookshier liked to tell a story about going downtown the day after the title game and walking into Wanamaker’s department store. He saw a set of glasses on display with the headline: “Eagles Win NFL Championship.” The man behind the counter recognized him and said: “Hey, Tom, great game.”
“I thanked him, I bought a set of glasses and left,” Brookshier said. “That was it. No big deal. Today, there would be a parade, a police escort, a trip to the White House. I think I liked it better the old way.”
The Eagles appeared headed back to the championship game the next year, winning six of the first seven games, but then Brookshier broke his leg against the Chicago Bears at Franklin Field. I still remember seeing the ambulance drive onto the field to take him away.
The Eagles lost the next two games to the Giants (38-21) and Cleveland (45-24) and their reign as champions was over. To this day, I believe losing Brookshier was the difference in that season. They tried two rookies in his place – one was Irv Cross, a very fine player – but the defense wasn’t the same without Brookshier.
He tried to come back the following year, but his leg –which was horribly shattered – would not allow it. That’s when he crossed over into broadcasting, starting at WCAU radio doing the morning sports report. In 1962, he joined Bill Campbell on the Eagles broadcasts, providing the color analysis to Campbell’s play-by-play.
Brookshier was the first local athlete to go straight from the playing field to the broadcast booth and with his quick wit and engaging personality, he made it look easy. In the 1970s, CBS paired him with Pat Summerall as their top TV broadcast team. They worked all the big games, including five Super Bowls.
Along the way, Brookshier and Summerall became best friends. It was Brookshier who convinced Summerall to check himself into the Betty Ford Clinic for alcohol rehabilitation. That intervention probably saved Summerall’s life.
Brookshier was part of the group that launched the sports radio format at WIP more than 20 years ago. He also was on the ground floor of Comcast SportsNet. The original Eagles Postgame show was Michael Barkann, Brookshier and myself. It was Brookshier’s credibility, built up over the years, that drew viewers to the show.
He never talked much about his own playing career. When he did, he usually poked fun at himself, saying he was so slow it looked like he was playing in snow shoes. None of it was true, of course. His No. 40 is retired by the Eagles for a reason. He was that good.
But beneath the jokes, Brookshier was a proud man who loved to show off his 1960 world championship ring. What a pity he won’t be here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that season. The party won’t be nearly as much fun without him.
That’s how we will remember Tom Brookshier – as a winner in football and a winner in life, a guy who had fun every day and shared that joy with those around him. I’ll always remember his wonderful laugh and killer handshake. He was a mentor, but most of all, he was a friend. He was one of a kind, he really was.
Rest in peace, Tom. And thanks for the memories.
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