Eagles Football great
Do the lights seem dimmer tonight? Is the room quieter?
Tom Brookshier, gone too soon, could light up a cave with his presence. He could change the library-hush of any room with his unique laugh that would carom off the walls, making the glassware vibrate.
Gone too soon. Brookie died this year, but his memory lingers. And on the night he is inducted into Philadelphia’s Sports Hall of Fame, those memories will be on display, some blurred by time, some retouched by sadness, all of them warm and wonderful and most of them ending in laughter.
Thomas Jefferson Brookshier belongs in Philadelphia’s Sports Hall of Fame for what he accomplished as a football player. The Eagles drafted him in the 10th round in 1953 out of the University of Colorado.
He looked around at training camp, saw all those grizzled veterans, and decided to make an impression on the coaches before he got that one-way ticket home. Their number one pick chugged downfield on a pass pattern and Brookie hammered him, knocking him out.
“Our coach jumped and yelled,” Brookie recalled, “and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to get cut.’ But he ran out and said, ‘I like that.’”
There was plenty to like about the way Brookie played the game. He played it aggressively on that 1960 team, the one that won the NFL championship, beating Green Bay in the title game.
They might have repeated the next year, even with coach Buck Shaw and quarterback Norm Van Brocklin gone. But Brookie’s leg was shattered midway through the season. The Eagles got clobbered the next two games, wiping out any championship dreams.
The Eagles retired his number (40). His former teammates spoke glowingly about him when they reunited the survivors of that 1960 season in September.
“He was always a leader on the field, and in the locker room,” said Chuck Bednarik. He might have been the toughest defensive back of our era; he was a hitter.”
The leg never healed properly. Brookie took that supersized personality and that booming laugh into television and soon carved out a Hall of Fame career as a pro football commentator.
They teamed him with Pat Summerall and it was like corned beef and cabbage, apple pie and ice cream, gin and tonic, not necessarily in that order.
When Summerall spoke at Brookie’s funeral services he told the story of one raucous night in Manhattan when they hired a horse-and-buggy driver named Michael Patrick. They invited Michael Patrick to join them, while headed for the Plaza.
Michael Patrick wondered who would take care of his horse. Brookie and Summerall had a quick answer. They would bring the horse along. Which explains what that horse was doing in the lobby of the Plaza that night.
Sure, there were glitches along the way, a flip comment about the academic skills of some Louisville basketball players drew a brief suspension. And there was that awkward scene atop equipment trunks after the Super Bowl when Duane Thomas went monosyllabic on them.
Brookie qualified for the Hall of Fame for the number of charitable causes he supported, for his role in rescuing the Maxwell Club from obscurity, for transforming WIP into a welcoming zoo for passionate sports fans. (Hey, 2-out-of-3 ain’t bad.)
And he would rate a place for saving Summerall’s life before it vanished in a puddle of alcohol. Brookie quietly, but firmly, arranged an intervention for Summerall and got him off booze and onto a healthy lifestyle.
Summerall speaks about Tom Brookshier as “a brother.”
Brookie, whenever asked about it, would shrug and say, “We’re supposed to look out for each other. Isn’t that what friends are for?”