Saturday, August 18, 2018

Larry Who? Larry Brooks, That's Who

By John Turney
Sometimes a player has a career that may not end with accolades like the Hall of Fame or even the Hall of Very Good but when it is reflected on it may be a result of poor timing or being on the wrong team.

Such may be the case for Larry Brooks. He was part of a very successful defense that didn't win a Super Bowl and he had teammates like Merlin Olsen (Hall of Famer), Jack Youngblood (Hall of Famer), Fred Dryer, Hacksaw Reynolds that had lots of star power.

Now we are not suggesting Brooks's career is Hall of Fame worthy, though, it's not far off. He was a five-time Pro Bowler (1976-80), was a First-team All-Pro in 1977 and 1979 and a Second-team All-Pro in 1974 and 1978 and has other excellent credentials which we will explore.
In his decade as a starter, 1972-81, the Rams defense performed extremely well. In those ten years, the Rams allowed the fewest yards in the NFL, allowed the second fewest rushing yards, sacked the most quarterbacks, allowed the second fewest points, allowed the fewest passing yards, allowed the third-best defensive passer rating, allowed the second-fewest rushing touchdowns and picked off the fifth most passes.

That's a 1st-2nd-1st-2nd-1st-3rd-2nd-and 5th ranking in eight of the most important defensive categories. Extremely well, indeed, especially considering the competition in the NFL that was composed of the Steel Curtain, Doomsday II Defense, the Purple People Eaters, the Orange Crush and other fine defenses like the Raiders and Dolphins.

Sure, all that success was a team effort, but Brooks deserves his share of the credit, too, along with the Youngbloods, Olsen, Dryer, Reynolds, etc., because in that same ten-year period Brooks, per 16 games, he averaged 7½ stuffs, 9 sacks, and 80 tackles.

Those are fine numbers for a defensive tackle for a single season—one that would make him an All-Pro or Pro Bowler, and much more so to average that over a decade.

Here are his complete career statistics.
He led the Rams defensive linemen in tackles every year from 1973 through 1980, with the exception of 1975 when he injured a knee at mid-season.

In 1976, he had a year defensive tackles dream about. He had 74 tackles, 13 were for losses and had 14½ sacks (still the Rams record for a defensive tackle). That total of 27½ plays behind the line of scrimmage in 14 games is quite impressive considering 2017 AP Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald had 17.5 such plays in 2017 (in 14 games) and had a career-high of 24.5 of these plays in 2015 (in 16 games).

Brooks also has a couple of excellent "testimonials". One from John Hannah and another from Gene Upshaw. Upshaw said to the Los Angeles Times that Brooks was "the best defensive tackle I face'.
Hannah was always in for a tough battle against Brooks, both in 1974 and in 1980.

In 1974 Brooks made 8 solo tackles and had two sacks in the Week 3 matchup between the Rams and Patriots. In 1980 they met again and Hannah told Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman only, "Last year I had a rough one against Larry Brooks of the Rams". But here are some still shots of a couple of plays where Brooks and Hannah were matched up. Both ended up with Hannah on his rear end.
Brooks engages Hannah
Brooks initiates and inside club move

He tosses Hannah to the ground

And Brooks continues and sacks Grogan.
"We howled when we saw those plays on film" said Jack Youngblood, referring to the plays both above and below. "Mickey, our film guy, put it and some others on a loop and we'd watch that over and over". "The thing is", added Youngblood, "is Brooksie did that to a lot of guys".

Here is the end zone view of the same play:

Here is another play from the same game:
Brooks and Hannah engage

Again, and inside club employed by Brooks

Brooks goes flat on his back.

Brooks can then go freely to the QB
Youngblood added that Brooks was the best he's ever seen at the "butt technique", a "three-point landing—hands on shoulder pads and facemask to facemask". "Larry would just stun the guard" with that three-point landing and he was not tall, maybe 6-3 but built very low, a low center of gavity, and it just stopped all the momentum of the guard. Brooks when then shed the guard by pulling or "jerking" him back and Brooks was free to make tackles.

It was also fascinating to watch Brooks run through the "trash" in pursuit. It was a day and age when offensive linemen would cut people and it left lots of bodies on the ground. Brooks could smoothly go through that trash when the play was away from him. It's part of the reason he made so many tackles—backside pursuits.
Brooks could rush the passer as well. He'd benefit from having two ends like Youngblood and Dryer on the edges and the quarterback having to step up a lot, but he could club, rip, and swim with the best of them.

In 1978 in a fine article in the Los Angeles Times by Ted Green, Brooks mentioned he understood his plight in not getting tons and tons of recognition. But he played for another reason:

From 1972-76, especially from 1973-76 Merlin Olsen was the "cop" of the line, he was the mentor to young players and as it was taught back then, three guys are cut loose and someone has to play along the line and watch for pass actions runs—draws, traps and screens (which is really a run play) and Olsen, though still a Pro Bowl player took on that role. This allowed Brooks to get up the field and if run showed, he'd convert to that three-point butt technique and squash the run and if it was a pass he was free to get there, knowing Olsen had his back.

In 1982 the knee injuries returned and they effectively ended his career. Really, the knee troubles that began in 1975 never left. It was a nagging thing from 1976-80 and in 1981 he hurt it again and in 1982 the third major knee injury felled him. 

After his career, Brooks served as the defensive line coach for the Rams from 1983-91 and the Green Bay Packers from 1994–1998, the Seattle Seahawks from 1999-2002 both under Mike Holmgren, Then to the Chicago Bears in 2003, and was the Detroit Lions defensive line coach from 2004-05. He spent the 2006 season as the defensive line coach for the Arizona Cardinals. From 1992-93 he was both a coach and administrator at his alma mater Virginia Tech.

Is it a Hall of Fame career? Likely not. He's in a big group of excellent defensive tackles who were All-Pro a couple of times and went to maybe a handful of Pro Bowls and there is quite a logjam. You read about the push for Joe Klecko a lot, and he's a worthy player but as can be seen, Brooks's numbers are very similar.
 The trouble is other great defensive tackles are also in the mix, players like Fred Smerlas, Alex Karras, Tom Sestak, Bryant Young (modern candidate) et al. 

So, sometimes maybe being respected by your peers is enough. Maybe that will have to be the Larry Brooks legacy.


  1. Yeah, when you are doing things like that to John Hannah you deserve HOF consideration.

  2. I do think Klecko is a tad better than Brooks but both are deserving.

  3. Defense was dramatically better with Brooks playing, unfortunately he was hurt in some of the playoff games where he could have been the difference between winning and losing.

  4. I fist met Larry Brooks at my Bass Fishing Club meeting in Anaheim California. I had grown up watching him playing football for the Rams with my father. I just know that out of all of the things that I have read about Larry Brooks, not one article has mention anything about what Larry's true personality is like. Larry Brooks is on of the kindest, hardest working, and family oriented man who I have had the pleasure of meeting and claiming as a friend. It isn't every day that you get to meet a professional football player.but I can say that in the South Coast Bass Fishing Club in Anaheim California, I have had the pleasure of meeting, and Fishing with, not only Larry Brooks, but also Nolan Cromwell, Jim Youngblood and Jack Youngblood.

    I joined Bass Fishing Club in the late 80's or early 90's with my 1st husband who wanted to join because he wanted to fish with his father.

    I'm just thankful that I did join the Fishing Club, because I have been blessed with meeting 4 of the best football players and men in my lifetime.

    What truly has been getting to me is the fact that nobody is talking about the fact that the 4 of these men are not only great football players, but they are four of the best people that you will be able to meet and call your friend.

    If I ever have the opportunity to see Larry Brooks again in my lifetime, I would love to introduce him to my son who has been hearing me tell him about Larry Brooks, Nolan Cromwell, and Jim and Jack Youngblood for a very long time now. He keeps asking me to tell him about Larry Brooks and the kind of man he truly was. I just hope that one day I can introduce my son to Larry Brooks so that he can have the opportunity for himself to meet and get to know the real Larry Brooks.

    I live in Florida now and don't know if I will ever be able to get in contact with Larry Brooks again in my lifetime. I just know that this is on my list of hopes and dreams that I want to make happen one day.