When Bill O'Brien first arrived in Houston in 2014, one of the first orders from his regime was to scrub the walls in the hallway of NRG Stadium, where players walked to lunch every day, removing giant images of Texans' Pro Bowlers.
The actual removal of the images didn't matter as much as the symbolism behind it. It was a reminder to Brandon Brooks and the rest of his teammates that things were about to change. And they did.
But now, every day when Brooks walks down the hallway of the NovaCare Complex, he can see his image, with a growing number of Pro Bowl years listed under it, and smile.
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It's a new reminder: Coming to Philadelphia has really worked out for Brooks. And it has really worked out for the Eagles.
"I wanted a fresh start, man," Brooks said Wednesday, the day after he was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl. "Wanted to go somewhere else. I came here and it's the best decision I made."
'S--- was miserable'
Brooks made some headlines this summer, talking about his time under O'Brien in Houston. Back in June, he told a reporter, "S--- was miserable, every day. Every day."
On Sunday afternoon, Brooks will look across the field and see O'Brien. He'll see his first NFL team, with which he had some great highs and some miserable lows.
"I'm not going to lie," Brooks said this week. "I'm going to be excited. Will probably be a little bit emotional out there."
When Brooks made those comments in the summer, they weren't off the cuff. That's the way he felt for a long time. When his teammate and friend Lane Johnson came under fire for his comments about the Patriots, Brooks couldn't hold it back anymore and told everyone what he really thought about the way the Texans were run under one of Bill Belichick's disciples.
I was there in 2014, when O'Brien took over control of that team. I was covering the Texans for the now-defunct CSN Houston. O'Brien seems to be a pretty good coach, but he's gruff; he's not for everybody, and neither is the way he ran that building. Some players seem to really latch on to that coaching style; some don't. Brooks didn't.
Part of the big problem in Houston for players like Brooks was that O'Brien's coaching style was such a stark difference from former head coach Gary Kubiak. Kubiak's style as a head coach was a lot like Doug Pederson's - he was a players' coach and his guys loved him. Those are the kind of coaches who allow and encourage players to be themselves and let their personalities loose. When O'Brien came to town, it seemed in many ways like an authoritarian takeover. Some of the Texans didn't know how good they had it.
"Very good player, tough guy, smart guy, did an excellent job for us here," O'Brien said about Brooks in a conference call with Philly reporters this week. "Obviously, in free agency, he took an opportunity to go to Philly. Definitely wanted him back but it was an opportunity that he couldn't pass up. But we definitely enjoyed coaching him here."
A new home
The money was close back in 2016 when Brooks decided to sign with the Eagles, but lucky for him, the Eagles offered a little bit more, with a five-year deal worth $40 million. It gave him a good excuse to bolt town and come to an organization he felt wanted him more.
And when he got to the Eagles in 2016, something special was already happening. Pederson had taken over and had brought some color back to a building that had been grayed by Chip Kelly.
It felt like home, with guys who quickly became like brothers and an offensive line coach in Jeff Stoutland who quickly became a father figure.
Perhaps that's the reason Brooks was able to attack his anxiety head-on. When he missed two games in 2016, it was eventually determined that it was his anxiety that was making him physically ill before games, something he was never able to pinpoint in Houston. In the Texans' defense, that organization didn't know he was dealing with anxiety. In fact, they thought a stomach ulcer was to blame. But his feeling of home in Philadelphia allowed him to publicly open up about his issues and fight them head-on.
"Truly like brothers, man," Brooks said. "I think that's what continues to allow us to fight through our games, continues to allow us to not be frustrated on the sideline when something doesn't go our way, allows us to believe in each other."
Pretty damn high
Free agency began in the NFL in 1993 and my colleague Reuben Frank has covered the Eagles since before then. He has previously created lists of the top free agents in Eagles' history, so I messaged him Thursday to ask where Brooks ranks.
"Pretty damn high," Frank said back.
Yeah, that sounds about right.
There's Troy Vincent, Malcolm Jenkins, Jon Runyan, Nick Foles (if he counts), Asante Samuel, Ricky Watters, Nigel Bradham, William Fuller, and Irving Fryar, who made those previous lists. Brooks has to be right in the mix.
He's still just 29 and is in his second straight Pro Bowl season. He helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl in 2017 and Doug Pederson called him the "glue" that has held together the offensive line through an injury-riddled 2018 season.
"I think he's the best in the league at what he does," Lane Johnson said.
The Eagles are lucky to have him. And Brooks is definitely happy to be here. He'll get a reminder of that Sunday.
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