The phone rang and the voice on the other end never failed to provide a boost. "Let me tell you something," Tom Brookshier would say, "the boys played a heckuva game yesterday. Oh, that was a great win! Andy had the guys ready to play." It was Brookshier checking in, and he did it quite often over the years. The game had long since passed Brookshier by, but he was there all the same.
Brookshier's passing on Friday night was the big story when it was disclosed on Saturday and the entire region of Philadelphia mourned. Brookshier was more than an All-Pro defensive back for the Eagles, of course. He was an icon in Philadelphia, a pioneer of the game and around the game in so many ways.
I didn't have the privilege of watching Brookshier play. I've heard from older Eagles fans and from his former teammates about Brookshier's ball-hawking abilities, about his toughness, his leadership role and the way he helped rally the team from some lowly moments in the 1950s to the crowning glory of the 1960s.
I first knew of Brookshier when he and Pat Summerall formed a legendary broadcasting team on CBS' telecasts of NFL games, and then through the years Brookshier's national profile grew. He was A Voice Of The Game and you could just hear his energy and his passion for football over the air. Brookshier was larger than just about anything going. Are you old enough to remember This Week In Pro Football? If you are, you know that back then there weren't many highlights of the league's games, and when the show came on in the 1970s it was must-see TV for everyone craving more, more, more from the NFL.
By the time I got to know Brookshier, he was done with television and morphed his career in radio and in many ways Brookshier changed the industry forever. When I was a kid, WIP radio was a regular radio station and my mother and I listed to Wee Willie Webber spin records and regal us with his chatter.
By the time I was in college at Temple University in the mid-1980s and then in the few years after, WIP had transitioned to sports talk, and Brookshier was at the forefront of the move. He was the morning host then, talking sports, sharing opinions with an incredibly-rabid fan base and entertaining all with his larger-than-life personality.
We all know what WIP has become, and whether you like it or not, you can't deny its presence and the impact it has had on a journalistic landscape once dominated by newspapers. Soon after Brookshier helped make WIP a sports-talk monster, newspapers followed the lead of the radio, and it hasn't changed much since.
I really got to know Brookshier during these last 11-plus years since Andy Reid became the head coach here. Reid always encouraged former players to come back and visit the team, to re-acquaint themselves with the family. It was one of Jeffrey Lurie's major drives when he purchased the Eagles in 1994 and Brookshier was a leading voice as the organization banded more closely with its past.
Brookshier came around at least two or three times every season. He was there at Alumni Day at training camp. He came to visit the NovaCare Complex during the season. He was always cordial, always receptive, always a gentleman. Who knew he was a legend? Brookshier was Brookie, a friend to everyone.
Our bond was unique. It often came in the form of the phone calls, no matter a win or a loss by the Eagles. Brookie was always positive, always excited to say hello and always encouraging. He followed my career, offered his advice and certainly showed that he cared.
How can you not love a man like that? How can you not feel a trust in a person who didn't represent himself as anything other than a friend?
He was an all-time football player, a force in the broadcasting industry and a visionary in the ever-changing sea of the media. But to all who knew him, who loved him and respected him, he was Brookie and that was more than good enough to know.
There is a picture of Brookshier that hangs in a hallway at the NovaCare Complex, among a series of old-time pictures that trace the years of the history of the franchise. He is posing with his wife, Barbara, and his family, and Brookshier looks like a million dollars, the happiest man in the world. He was with his wife and his children and the charisma jumped out of the frame.
I had a chance to know him and I am grateful for the time he spent with me, a sentiment I know that everyone who knew Tom Brookshier feels in this time of mourning, reflection and love.