INDIANAPOLIS – The seven seasons Bill Brooks played with the Colts from 1986-92 brought results across the spectrum in the won-loss column.
The team had difficult seasons in 1986 and 1991. Indianapolis won the AFC Eastern Division in his second season and competed for a playoff berth until the last week of the 1988 campaign. The Colts were 8-8 and 7-9 in 1989 and 1990, respectively. Indianapolis was 9-7 in Brooks' final year with the team.
What never varied, however, was his dedication to the game and the organization.
From the outset of his career, Brooks possessed a maturity that helped him find the playing field. His ethic allowed him to be a leader and top contributor throughout his Indianapolis playing days. Brooks was meticulous in preparation for every phase of his Colts career.
"I approached practice like it was the hardest part of my week, meaning that my teammates I'm going against, whether it's the first-team defense or the second-team defense, they knew me pretty well. They knew what I was going to do. I figured if I could go out there and play hard, do a good job, execute, make catches and carry out my assignments that come game time, it would be easier. I approached practice very seriously, and I approached film very seriously. I figured if I could get an edge in knowing what the defense was going to do that would make my job a lot easier, and make my teammates jobs easier as well," said Brooks. "I took practice, film sessions and even the weight room very seriously. I thought come Sunday or Monday, whenever we played, that it would be a little bit easier for us once we got out there on the field in competition."
His exemplary practice and work patterns made him an ideal teammate. Brooks topped the team in receptions four times, and he had six straight seasons (1986-91) with 50 receptions, then a club mark. As his time ended with the Colts following the 1992 season, Brooks' 411 career receptions ranked second only to Raymond Berry in club history, his 5,818 yards ranked fourth and his scoring receptions were seventh.
Brooks made an impact on teammates with how he went about his job. One such person is former Colts safety Mike Prior.
"Bill was a quiet leader. He was unbelievable. He was one of my workout partners through my years with the Colts. We were part of the crew that got here early to workout. To look at him at times at his size, he wasn't over-built. He was real smooth. He wasn't like this big guy that you would say, 'He's a big guy. He can run.' He was a student of the game. He had great hands. He knew what his role was. He knew how to get open and make the big plays. His work ethic was great. I trained and ran with him in the off-season. I used to ask him, 'Do you have an extra lung in there?' He was so well-conditioned. He claimed I was pushing him, but I was doing my best to keep up with him. He could bench press and do all the lifts (in the weight room) and it just seemed easy to him. That type of thing impressed me," said Prior. "He didn't have to get all the recognition on or off the field. He knew what he did and how he worked. He worked hard. He had the mentality of working to improve himself. He did not need to be in the paper and get the publicity. He was trying to help the team, either by bringing up some of the young guys or by being an example to the older guys. He worked every day, not just on Sunday."
As he prepped himself to contribute for teammates, he, in turn, played with others who Colts fans remember. One was quarterback Gary Hogeboom, who joined Indianapolis in 1986, too. Injuries, however, shortened his career in Indianapolis. Brooks admired Hogeboom and wishes the signal-caller's career with the club had gone differently.
"Hogy, he used to play for Dallas and came here in 1986, my rookie year. Gary is one of those guys who wanted to do well so badly. He was traded here and he wanted to do well and prove to people that he could play in this league and that he could do a good job. He practiced so hard and he prepared so hard watching film and being ready to play. It was unfortunate that he got hurt. He really didn't get the chance to play here. We all saw the talent that he had and what he could've done to help this team with his intelligence and being a veteran player. He helped us with his experience and what he wanted to do as far as an offensive standpoint. He played in the complicated offense in Dallas as far as the backup there, but when he came here he unfortunately got hurt and we felt bad for him because we knew how badly he wanted to play and how much he wanted to contribute. Gary was a competitor and he wanted to play and we all respected him for that. He was a good teammate."
One of the reasons for the club's success in the late 1980s was an offensive line that was anchored by multiple Pro Bowlers in center Ray Donaldson and Chris Hinton. Veterans like Kevin Call, Randy Dixon, Zefross Moss, Ben Utt and Ron Solt toiled along with Donaldson and Hinton, and the results of the group were stellar. Brooks keenly remembers the quality of his linemates.
"I called those guys my 'big brothers' because they took care of me when other teams were trying to bully me around. Ray Donaldson, people don't give him enough credit for the work he did at center making sure everyone was in the right spot and also his blocking ability and run and pass blocking. Guys like Kevin Call and Ben Utt and of course Chris Hinton, 'The Dancing Bear.' Big Chris was one of those individuals that was big, but he had some great feet for a guy his size. He'd do a lot of different things, great pass blocking and good run blocking. He was a very intelligent young man that played well and played hard. Those guys did a lot. We had a guy named Ron Solt who was a big guy that played well, too. We had some good guys. All those guys had a good bond. Offensive lineman do have a certain bond because those are the guys that do a lot work, and the bottom line is that a game is won in the trenches. They played hard and they played well. If you get running backs 1,000 yards you're doing a good job, and our offensive line did that during that time."
Brooks remained in the area when his career ended and worked for the club during part of wide receiver Marvin Harrison's era. It was Harrison who first surpassed Brooks' Indianapolis receiving totals. Like any football observer, Brooks appreciated the career of Harrison.
"He was consistent. He was durable as well. He was one of the players that day in and day out was going to be there ready to play and play at a high level. He was not just able to play, but played at a high level, and he made big plays to contribute. Marvin might have been quiet. You might not have heard a lot from Marvin but when he went out there and played, everyone knew Marvin was out there. He was very consistent, and I just liked the way he ran routes. He ran sharp, crisp routes. He got open. The quarterback knew where he was going to be. Those are things to me that separated Marvin from the rest of the guys," said Brooks. "In my mind, he's a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. His numbers speak for themselves. He was a tremendous athlete and did a good job."
Brooks' talent level and his studious approach to his career helped ensure he would remain in the NFL for years. Still, eleven seasons went by in a heartbeat. With a chance to offer an observation on a playing career, he does have a bit of advice to those hoping to start a career.
"I would tell those individuals to not take anything for granted, to savor every moment you can while playing, and to enjoy the bonds and relationships you have with your teammates. Because it's something that will last forever, the bonds you have. It goes by fast, and you want to have some memories. Savor every moment and seize the opportunity. You never know if you're going to have the opportunity to get to the Super Bowl or play in the playoffs. So save those moments when you get there and take advantage of the opportunity once you do get there."