INDIANAPOLIS – During the Colts' 28 seasons in Indianapolis, a large number of players have achieved greatness on the field while serving as role models off the playing surface. One of the earliest to do so wore #80 for the club from 1986-92.
Bill Brooks joined the Colts as a fourth-round draft choice out of Boston University in 1986, and his career flourished from the outset. Brooks' jersey number became as synonymous with one player as any number did for a player during the team's early years in Indianapolis. Colts fans got familiar with Brooks and his jersey number early as the first-year player amassed 65 receptions for 1,131 yards and eight touchdowns in 1986. His performance was a bright spot in a difficult season for the club. Veteran quarterback Gary Hogeboom was lost to injury in week two, thrusting rookie Jack Trudeau under center. Trudeau and Brooks combined on more than a few aerials as first-year performers. Brooks' totals for receptions, yards and touchdowns set franchise rookie records, with only Marvin Harrison's eight scores in 1996 equaling any of those marks. The duo combined on an 84-yard scoring play early that year, with the play still standing as the second-longest rookie reception in franchise history. Brooks also had two 100 games in 1986, a rookie mark bettered only by Andre Rison (three) in 1989.
As quickly as Brooks established himself on the field, he did so off it as well. He was a regular participant in the club's community relations efforts. For years, he emceed the Colts', 'Yes to School, No to Drugs' Rally, along with the Gridiron Geography program and countless speaking appearances. He put down roots in the community, earned an advanced degree locally and continued putting up numbers on the field.
Brooks topped the team in receptions four times, a total only succeeded by Harrison and Reggie Wayne. He had six straight seasons (1986-91) with 50 receptions, then a club mark and topped only now by Harrison and Wayne. As Harrison and Wayne bettered Brooks' mark in this area as the NFL game changed, so had Brooks bested the prior mark in this category set by Hall-of-Famer Raymond Berry in the 1950's and 1960's. As his time ended with the Colts following the 1992 season, Brooks' 411 career receptions ranked second only to Berry in club history, his 5,818 yards ranked fourth and his scoring receptions were seventh.
A veteran who was savvy the first day he entered the team's facility, Brooks explained recently how he went about his craft.
"I wanted to be the type of player that my teammates could count on. I went out there and played hard. Every time I stepped on the field, whether it was practice or in a game, I wanted them to know I was giving 100 percent and my teammates, coaches and the organization could count on me when I went out there and played. That's the type of player I wanted to be," said Brooks. "If I was that you'll have to ask my teammates. I just wanted to play hard every day. I didn't think I was the most talented player out there. I just thought I had to work hard to hopefully do what I could to help the team, whether it was running routes to get other people open or block. I just wanted to do the best I could out there to help them succeed."
That Brooks did everything within his power to maximize his performance is without question. Every player knows there is a limited time he can compete at the NFL level. Brooks left nothing to chance, and he always put himself behind the team. What he got out of it during his experience in Indianapolis is something that cannot be valued – memorable relationships. Those relationships counted far more to him than any personal achievements.
"I would say it's people," said Brooks when asked what he took the most from during his career. "Performances come and go. People are going to be there for you throughout your lifetime, and the friendships and the bonds that were developed and created during my time here with the Indianapolis Colts was something that I'll never forget. Bonds with guys like Jeff Herrod, who I still keep in contact with, and bonds with Chris Hinton and Ray Donaldson and individuals like that; Clarence Verdin, Jessie Hester, Reggie Langhorne, Matt Bouza, Tim Sherwin, Mark Boyer. Those are the things you remember the most. Those are the things that I'll remember when I'm 60, 70 years old -- the friendships and bonds that we had when we played professional football."
Brooks departed Indianapolis and finished his career with Buffalo and Washington. His home address, however, never changed. In all, he played 11 NFL seasons. Like all players, his career went by quickly.
"It went extremely fast. Seven years here for me went extremely fast. I can remember getting here, getting off the plane, getting in a van and driving into Anderson for our first training camp. Then I left here and played in Buffalo and Washington and the years went by so fast. Eleven years you think is a long time but looking back on it, it went by pretty fast."
Players the caliber of Brooks put everything they could into a career. Post-career times do offer opportunity for reflection. Brooks looks back with no regrets on something he could have done that he neglected to do. He does see areas he wishes he could have known better that the years have taught him.
"I would have liked to know how to work out more efficiently. Back then I was going to work out hard and work through a lot of different things. If I was tired I was going to work through it instead of resting a little bit or eating properly. (Doing) something as simple as eating a little better maybe would have made it easier for me to play, or maybe it would have prolonged by career. Those are some things I wish I would've known back then, but I don't have any hard feelings or regrets. I used what I had and did the best I could with it."
Brooks authored a solid career, one that ranks high among Colts fans. His accomplishments are cited forever at Lucas Oil Stadium with his name on the wall as part of the Colts Ring of Honor. Inducted in 1998, and his contributions on and off the field remain vivid for Colts fans.