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They came to play: from the NFL to CFL


They are here to start over, to start fresh.

Free safety Michael Brooks no longer wanted the spare-part designation of nickel back/special teamer.

Fullback Peter Tuipuluto no longer was willing to be an extra body that filled a training camp roster.

So, reaching their dissatisfaction independently, and from opposite ends of the country, Brooks and Tuipuluto arrived at Towson State last month to begin anew in the Canadian Football League with the Colts.

Leaving the NFL behind, they wanted fulfillment more than fame, a chance to play more than a chance to get a foot in the proverbial door.


"Sometimes in life," Brooks said, "you want to know if you have it. You want to know if you can play professional football."

Brooks, 27, was not able to answer the question in the five years he spent trying to make it in the NFL. Twice -- with the Dallas Cowboys and San Diego Chargers -- he made regular-season rosters. But never as a starter.

Tuipuluto, 25, lost out to a high draft pick and was in the final round of cuts with the Chargers a year ago. Not only could he handle all the assignments a fullback must -- run, receive, block -- he played special teams in San Diego. Eric Bieniemy did not.

Yet Bieniemy, a second-round draft pick from 1991, made the team. Tuipuluto, who made the team as a free agent in 1992, did not.

"It was hard for me to swallow," he said. "You try to find answers. I found out the business aspect of the NFL, how things run there.

"To me, no matter how well you do, guys who are drafted will be kept over free agents. I figured I'd try to go out and make a name for myself."

A native of the Tonga Islands and a resident of San Mateo, Calif., Tuipuluto chose Baltimore and the CFL over camp shots with the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos in the NFL.

"I wanted the opportunity to be somewhere and have a good chance of making it, and not just be a camp body," he said.

In three weeks of training camp, Tuipuluto made good on the opportunity. He has won the starting fullback job. He is everything the Colts hoped he would be.

Brooks also appears to have locked up a starting job, but he took a more circuitous route. He overcame a slow start and surplus poundage.

"I came to camp like an NFL safety, at 208 pounds," he said. "I lost 10 pounds real quick."

Brooks got his dose of CFL reality when he first scanned the longer (10 more yards than the NFL), wider (11 1/2 yards) field. "I looked at the field the first day and said, 'Man, that's a long way.' "

It wasn't hard to lose weight, either.

"This is the hardest camp I've been to," he said. "Even harder than Jimmy Johnson's [in Dallas].

"It's not the hitting. There's a lot more running, a lot more drills. In the NFL, it's more like you condition yourself. Here, the coaches condition you."

Brooks, who chose Baltimore from his CFL options because of its proximity to his Greensboro, N.C., home, quickly found a new appreciation for his new league.

"At first, I probably didn't have as much respect for the CFL as I do now," he said. "I think this league is a lot harder than the NFL as far as the secondary. There's a lot more ground to cover.

"If I was in the NFL in the shape I am now, I would stand out."

That, ultimately, is what all this gets back to -- the NFL. That's where the money is, where the prestige is. Until -- unless -- the CFL catches on in the United States, it will remain so.

Said Tuipuluto of his new teammates: "I think a lot of these guys will go on to NFL teams."

Tuipuluto said he's focused on being in Baltimore. "I love being here," he said. "It's a great bunch of guys."

Perhaps because he traveled a similar path, Brooks had a similar perspective.

"A lot of guys see this as a steppingstone to the NFL," he said. "If you plan on getting back in the NFL, this is a great place to be.

"How do I look at it? I look at it as a steppingstone to playing."

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