Archie Manning is already there, of course, and Drew Brees will be. They are the most highly regarded quarterbacks in New Orleans Saints history — the two-time Pro Bowler and the record-setting Super Bowl winner.
But three decades after Manning, and just before Brees, there was Aaron Brooks. He was the one who led the Saints to their first playoff win in 34 years of existence. He was the one whose jersey everyone wore during his short but electrifying career as an NFL quarterback.
Nine years had passed since Brooks took his last snap in New Orleans. So when he received word last month that he had been chosen for the Saints’ Hall of Fame and will be inducted in November, well, it’s not like he was expecting it.
“I was asleep on the couch, taking a nap,” Brooks said from his home in Richmond. “Ken Trahan (chairman of the Saints’ Hall of Fame) was trying to explain to me and I told him, ‘Hold on, I have to sit up.’ I didn’t think I was hearing him correctly.
“It’s a wonderful honor. At first, I tried to downplay it, but now I’m excited about being a part of the Hall of Fame. I finally had a chance to visit (it) in the Superdome. Once I got in there and saw it, I said, ‘Wow, this is some huge stuff.’ Everybody was telling me how big it was. And I said, ‘Yeah, I guess it is.’ ”
It had been a long time coming for Brooks, a Ferguson High and University of Virginia graduate. He had the credentials with 82 consecutive starts (first in franchise history), 19,156 passing yards (third) and 120 touchdowns (second). He was 38-44 as QB1, but only two Saints quarterbacks with at least 20 starts — Brees and Bobby Hebert — are above .500 for their careers.
At 6-foot-4, Brooks had ridiculous skills — with his legs and his arm.
“He was special,” said Ahmad Hawkins, one of Brooks’ former receivers at Virginia. “He had such a strong arm. When he threw a pass, it was like Aaron was throwing a 95 miles-per-hour fastball. He had such a powerful arm. He reminded me of Randall Cunningham.”
Brooks comes from an area that produced two Pro Bowl quarterbacks: Warwick graduates Norm Snead and Michael Vick. Head to head, though he had a shorter career, Brooks’ stats are comparable. His per-game average of 218 passing yards is the highest of the three.
“Aaron Brooks is the most fundamentally sound, intellectually sound quarterback from this area other than Norm Snead,” said Tommy Reamon, Brooks’ coach at Ferguson. “You’ve got to put Aaron Brooks right there.”
When Brooks left Virginia after the 1998 season, he was No. 3 on the school’s all-time passing list with 5,118 yards. In the 1999 NFL draft, Brooks was taken in the fourth round by Green Bay. No. 3 on the Packers’ depth chart, and behind a guy named Brett Favre, he never took a snap and was traded to New Orleans during the offseason.
Brooks secured his place in Saints history in 2000, his first full season. In Week 12, he replaced injured starter Jeff Blake and led the Saints to the playoffs. Then he threw for 266 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-28 win over the St. Louis Rams, the franchise’s first postseason win.
The Saints went 7-9, 9-7, 8-8 and 8-8 over the next four seasons and didn’t return to the playoffs. Then came the 2005 season, which was a literal disaster from the start. Hurricane Katrina hit in August while the team was in Oakland for a preseason game.
With their city devastated and the Superdome being used as a shelter, the Saints rotated their “home” games between Baton Rouge, La., and San Antonio, Texas. They went 3-13 under awful circumstances. Coach Jim Haslett was fired, and Brooks was released.
“It was horrible,” he said. “It was my roughest year as a professional by far.”
Only 29, Brooks was signed by the Oakland Raiders. He had the multi-talented and perplexing Randy Moss as a receiver but a weak offensive line. He tore a pectoral muscle in Week Two against Baltimore and missed seven games.
Brooks came back, he said, out of respect for Raiders coach Art Shell. But he wasn’t the same. After the season, he was told he needed surgery to repair the pectoral tear. He wasn’t ready to retire, but the phone wasn’t ringing.
So that was it … for football, anyway.
Now 38, Brooks isn’t one of those former players you read about who threw away his money and had no direction after football. He’s a family man — he and his wife, Tisa, have a 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old twins — and provider.
“I have a very, very good certified financial planner,” Brooks said. “His name is Michael Smith, and he owns Pro Focus. He’s a Charlottesville guy, but he resides in Arizona. He’s very instrumental in how I am financially set and prepared for life.”
Even before he officially retired, Brooks had become interested in land development. One of his current projects is a 22-acre area along lower Jefferson Avenue. The plans call for a grocery store, offices, residences and a police precinct station — all designed to revitalize the community.
“It’s going well,” Brooks said. “We’ve got some tenants lined up and hopefully we will be breaking ground in the fall, or hopefully late summer. Most needed, obviously, is the police precinct to do away with some of that crime.
“It’s a difficult project, which sometimes people don’t understand. You’re dealing with a low-income area of the city.”
It’s also personal to Brooks, who grew up in the Southeast Community.
“It’s only fitting,” he said. “Here I am, a young kid who grew up in the same public housing, 621 16th Street, and now I have an opportunity to invest my money back into the community. That goes beyond my wildest dreams.”Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun