ARLINGTON, TX -- For 11 years, Keith Brooking was a victim. But Sunday afternoon he showed the world that even the meekest among us can find the courage to stand on the outside and mock a struggling opponent.
While a non-factor in the actual game that was played, the 33-year old put forth an inspired career day on the sideline and in post-game interviews. All day long the Cowboys linebacker leaped through the air, taunted from the sidelines, and led celebrations for teammates who actually participated in the game.
But the exuberance masked an underlying pain. The real story on this memorable Sunday was that Brooking, after so many years of torture, can finally begin the long journey towards healing. In his ears all day he heard not the ringing support of the Dallas faithful, but the stinging echoes from the horrific mistreatment he endured in his days as an Atlanta Falcon.
For over a decade in Atlanta, Brooking was tossed around by opposing linemen, torched by tight ends, and abused by running backs, all because the Falcons selfishly wanted to pay him an enormous salary. The heartless Falcons' front office routinely dumped millions of dollars upon the defenseless linebacker, thereby forcing him to return season after season and endure beatings from opposing offenses.
"They kept telling me I had to come back and take all this money, because I had all these tackles," Brooking lamented Sunday. "I tried to point out that these were empty stats--tackles after I had been blocked ten yards downfield... usually I was just jumping on after somebody else made the stop." But the Falcon brass refused to listen. "They were always like, 'no, we have faith in you, we think you can do it...' I'll never forgive them for that."
And so it went. The bloodthirsty Falcons turned a blind eye to the abuse and sent Brooking back out on the field year after year to endure pain and humiliation.
"I really feel a deep connection with others who have had to go through this persecution in the past," ruminated Brooking after Sunday's victory. "Guys like Jackie Robinson, guys who knew what it was like to have to face such hardship and adversity every day." Added Brooking, "but since they weren't being paid so much, they weren't even really forced to take this punishment like I was--at least they had a choice."
And while figures like Robinson may have risen above daily death threats from violent supremacy groups, Brooking finally got his vengeance before the most devious, cold-hearted villain of all: Falcons owner and notorious philanthropist Arthur Blank.
Glancing over his stat sheet, the two tackles brought a grin to the long-troubled visage. "It's just such a relief, after being so mistreated for so long, to know I'll never be expected to perform again," Brooking said.
And then a pause. With 11 years' worth of dark tears cascading like ladies' mascara down eye-blacked cheeks, the tortured soul wiped away this river of redemption and raised his arms skyward.
"Never again, man... Never again."