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BillyCarpenter1 08-01-2003 02:46 PM

Aaron Brooks article...

Brooks finding comfort zone as Saints' leader

David Meeks

It was some time after the end of the season, after the loss to Carolina that ended the Saints' playoff hopes, after the scintillating 6-1 start flatlined to a 9-7 finish, that somehow 2002 didn't seem like a winning season.

Aaron Brooks walked into the Cheesecake Bistro on St. Charles Avenue to relax and have a drink -- and a guy in the back of the restaurant booed him. But just like that forgettable Sunday in the Superdome, when the fans turned on their beloved Saints, Brooks is ready to forget and move on.

It showed Thursday afternoon.

A relaxed and optimistic Brooks sat for a press conference -- his first since the season ended -- and took questions with a confidence that is perhaps easy to come by in the offseason. Yet there seemed to be something different about him, something that comes with maturity and experience, with taking a few knocks and getting up again.

Aaron Brooks is growing comfortable as the leader of the Saints. He's the logical choice, as quarterbacks typically are, but Brooks hasn't always appeared at ease in the spotlight. Though he smiles like an extrovert, spend time watching him and it's apparent this is an introspective young man who believes in his talent but has had to learn the art of leadership.

It starts with how one handles adversity.

Brooks took the high road at every juncture Thursday, from whether his injured shoulder affected his play to the trade of Kyle Turley to the prospect of facing former backup Jake Delhomme twice a year as the eventual starter in Carolina.

He sounded like a man not just ready to lead, but eager.

It is the one thing, besides some serious help on defense, that this team needs most. It's the one thing Brooks needs to demonstrate more forcefully to take his game, and the Saints, to new heights.

Brooks has formidable athletic talent. He is one of the bright young players in the NFL. But the difference between star and journeyman is not based on talent alone. Rather, it is whether a player can supplement ability with toughness, perseverance and dedication -- with the intangibles to rise above the small things to lead his team to great things.

Not many people have it, not only in the NFL, but in any line of work. It is a rare human commodity, which is what makes it so valuable. Even those quarterbacks who do possess it can sometimes take a while to figure it out. Brett Favre, an erratic freewheeler early in his career, figured it out and it's why he's headed to the Hall of Fame. Jeff George never did, and it's why he's on that long list of players whose leadership skills consist of talent and nothing more.

So it's very noticeable to hear Brooks describe the atmosphere at Saints camp as "upbeat, and it's going to stay that way. I'm going to see to that." Or to hear him say "I'm quite sure that I can improve in a lot of areas. I am sure everyone else can, too. That's why we are here."

Or when asked about what Joe Horn means to the club: "He's the man, next to me," before adding his usual laugh.

He even did his best on the Turley trade.

Brooks could've told the unvarnished truth, that there's been no outcry from players because the Saints are better off without Turley, that the short-fused tackle brought just the kind of me-first, fake warrior mentality that might pass for leadership in the World Wrestling Federation, but not on a real team playing a real game.

But Brooks didn't. Instead, he talked about how "Wayne Gandy is an excellent veteran tackle. I can't wait to get him in here and see what he has to offer." And his analysis of the trade is simply that "Mickey (Loomis) and Jim (Haslett) and the rest of the guys upstairs thought that was the best move, and I'm with them all the way."

Brooks has been through it as a Saint -- it seems hard to believe he's only been a starter for two full seasons. Not only is he still here, he still wants to be here. That should mean something to New Orleanians, because over the decades this mostly has been an NFL outpost populated by players on the wrong end of some other team's record-setting performance. Yet Brooks hasn't taken on the fans, and he hasn't looked for someone else to bail him out.

He appears to be a man who's spent a great deal of time thinking about last season, who wants to take over this team. He's been diligent about rehabbing his right shoulder, because he knows what every Saints fan should know: It represents the team's best chance to win. Believe me, if the Panthers had been given an opportunity to sign Brooks or Delhomme, Brooks would be in Carolina.

It isn't Brooks' place to say that, and he didn't. Instead he talked about how happy he is for Delhomme, how he expects him to do great things, how he expects a great competition when the two teams meet. The Saints will be there led by Brooks. On this team, he knows that's how it has to be.

BillyCarpenter1 08-01-2003 02:48 PM

Aaron Brooks article...
WhoDat, was that you booing Aaron in the Cheesecake Bistro?

tweeky 08-01-2003 03:08 PM

Aaron Brooks article...
Great article, I think I got a stiffy.

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