There has been a Comeback Player of the Year award handed out by a media outlet in some form or fashion every year since 1972. Not once has it been won by an offensive lineman.
Maybe Brandon Brooks will change that.
That wasn't Brooks' mission when he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon on January 13 on the turf of the Superdome in New Orleans. The following day, as the players cleaned out their lockers at the NovaCare Complex following the heartbreaking defeat in the playoffs to the Saints, Brooks said the injury lit a fire, which was odd considering that he was one of the most accomplished players at his position, earning back-to-back Pro Bowl nominations and winning a Super Bowl title.
"I didn't get complacent, but at the same time I want to get that chip back on my shoulder," Brooks said. "By this happening, it's back on the shoulder for me."
Brooks immediately set the season opener against Washington as his goal for returning to the field. He read reports that there was little chance of that happening. Brooks "ignored the noise" and focused on his recovery. He rehabbed twice a day, usually at the NovaCare Complex during the day and again at home at night. He lifted five, six days a week. Weekends off? No chance. Brooks did everything in his power with an eye on seeing where he would be before the start of Training Camp. His tireless effort put him in position to make Week 1 a realistic goal.
Brooks participated in individual drills from the start of Training Camp. When the Baltimore Ravens arrived in Philadelphia for joint practices during Week 3 of the preseason, Brooks started to get some one-on-one reps. Brooks began full-team work in pads two weeks ago. Last Friday, he wasn't even listed on the game status report.
On Sunday, he started and played 55 snaps on offense, coming out in the fourth quarter of the 32-27 victory. Brooks and the offense scored 14 points and gained 197 yards in the third quarter. Quarterback Carson Wentz was "sacked" just once all game, when he scrambled and only got back to the line of scrimmage. Brooks was supposed to be limited to 30 snaps, but felt good and wasn't tired. Brooks was in head coach Doug Pederson's ear and offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland's ear to stay in the game.
"This is what all the work was for, not just for myself to run out of the tunnel, but to be out there with those guys," Brooks said. "I'm an only child. I don't have any brothers, don't know what it's like. But in this locker room, it's not something that's just tossed around, especially in the O-line room. We really are a family.
"I always say I'm fortunate enough to be able to play in the NFL where I can get the best care as far as doctors and rehab. I felt like, especially last year, the training staff got a bad shake with different setbacks and the stuff that they were going through, but they did a great job with me, so I appreciate it. I appreciate the organization and the trainers to have faith in me for me to know my body and allow me to go out there and play."
Brooks' amazing recovery, 238 days after the injury, was not lost on his teammates.
"I told him today, 'Dude, you should be proud of all the work you did to get here.' To come off an Achilles being that big and to play Week 1, I think it speaks volumes about him as a person and as a player, how much he cares about this team because, probably by science, he shouldn't have played," tight end Zach Ertz. "But the way he was able to attack and overcome everything this offseason, I mean, I couldn't be more proud of him as a teammate. I told him that today. I told him that earlier in the offseason. It is remarkable what you've done and the work you've put in.
"It shows that when you put your head down and you say, 'Hey, I'm going to commit to this goal and I'm going to do everything I can to get there,' that you can accomplish it. I think that's what he's done. It speaks volumes about the work he's done. I feel like you should never put a limit on someone and he showed that today."
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who also had surgery in the offseason, rehabbed side by side with Brooks all through the spring and summer. Cox told Brooks that the two of them would be back for the opener.
"It shows you the dedication he's put in. We both had surgery in the offseason. We both talked about, 'Hey, we're both going to be back for this game because this team needs us. We're both going to be back for the season opener,' and we did that," Cox said. "I was happy to see him out there just being Brandon."
Sunday marked the beginning. Brooks expects to be full go next Sunday night when the Eagles travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. And the goal wasn't just to get back on the field. It is to be as dominant – or even more so – as he was before the injury. Maybe, just maybe, Brooks' incredible recovery will get the proper recognition that it should outside of the Eagles' locker room.