Some things, as we used to say in West Texas, "just ain't right."
They will bury Large Leo Brooks on Monday, barely a year and a month from when a doctor discovered that discomfort in his swallowing was caused by cancer that had spread throughout his upper chest area.
He had fought it since last February, just like he fought off offensive linemen on the way to sacking quarterbacks or ripping down running backs, first as a defensive tackle for the Texas Longhorns during the glory days of the late 1960s. He followed that with a seven-year NFL career and earned an invitation to the 1976 Pro Bowl, his final season in the league.
At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Brooks was a massive force in a day when offensive linemen of the time weighed in at an average of 210 pounds. He was strong. You get that way working on ranches and construction jobs. Brooks spent one summer at UT hauling shingles in a lumber yard and another on a construction crew that helped build Jester Dormitory.
He was a quiet West Texan, who grew up in Kermit. Brooks wasn't much for the big cities. Darrell Royal said he didn't gather a crowd and get up on a stump to speak. He did his talking when he got down in a stance along the defensive line.
Yet after an interview with a Tennessee sports writer prior to the Longhorns' 36-13 victory against the Volunteers in the 1969 Cotton Bowl, the writer came away tremendously impressed with Brooks' ability to be humble and honest. He shot straight with the reporter, just like he did with everybody else.
Brooks was a backup offensive lineman who had dabbled with defense in 1968. Texas was one game into a string of victories that would later stretch out to 30. It was the Oklahoma game in Dallas and the Sooners had a 14-6 lead. Sooners quarterback Bobby Warmack was looking to strike for the kill from the UT 45 in the final seconds of the first half. Two other players had gone down with injury when R. M. Patterson, the Longhorns defensive line coach, grabbed Brooks and put him in the game. On the first play, as Warmack dropped to pass, he met Brooks six yards deep in the backfield. The tackle stopped the drive and Brooks had found a home on the defensive front. UT came back to win the game, 26-20.
Brooks would go on to earn All-Southwest Conference honors following his senior season despite sustaining a season-ending knee injury in the first half of the SMU game on November 1. A successful surgery got an excellent repair, and while his teammates were preparing for the famed Cotton Bowl victory against Notre Dame on Jan. 1, 1970, Brooks took a week off prior to the game and went bow hunting.
The Houston Oilers, despite many of the NFL teams' concern over his surgically repaired knee, took Brooks with the 53rd pick in the second round of the 1970 NFL Draft. He played three years in Houston and was in the midst of a very successful run at St. Louis when his life took another turn.
The knee injury in college had kept Brooks from certainly earning All-America honors his senior season. He had a great chance, as the leader of the defense on the National Championship team, to perhaps win the Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior lineman. Brooks' pro career was at its peak in 1976 after being invited to play in the Pro Bowl.
However, the death of his father-in-law, who owned a ranch near Llano, left him as the only obvious candidate to come back and run the family business. Brooks cared about football, but ranching was in his blood and his family was in his heart, so he quit and came home.
With his wife, Judy, son, Corby, and daughter, Ashley, Brooks moved back to Austin, ran the ranch and went into the commercial real estate appraising business. He diversified the ranch, leasing hunting land and raising cattle. He was the President and CEO of The Leo Brooks Company. He watched his hard-working and determined son grow up and earn a starting berth in the Longhorns offensive line in 1994 and '95. The chip off the old man's block was a senior leader on a Longhorn team that posted a 10-2-1 record, claimed the final SWC Championship and earned a berth in the Sugar Bowl in 1995.
If Brooks ever looked back, it never showed. He was a great father and husband and a loyal friend to his teammates and associates.
When Mack Brown learned Brooks had lost his battle with cancer at the age of 53, it brought back tough memories of a pilgrimage he took home to Cookeville, Tenn., just before the Longhorns started spring training this year. One of his best childhood friends, Mike Phillips, had endured a pain he thought was a kidney stone for a week. When he got it checked, the doctors told him he had bone cancer and that he had a month to live.
Brown rushed to his friend's side as soon as he learned of the diagnoses. Just a year before, Brown's life had changed dramatically as he watched the family of Cole Pittman deal with the loss of their son. He didn't understand death then and he didn't understand it now. Phillips was 50 years old when he too lost his battle with cancer in February. Brown flew back for the funeral on the first Saturday in March.
Monday when they gather to remember Brooks, it will be hard to say good bye, just as it was hard for Brown to see his good friend go. These moments seem to come all too frequently. Death, without the chance to say good bye, seems ever present in this early part of the 21st century. It is a hard reminder that life is fragile and days together are to be treasured and never taken for granted.
The week after that 1968 Oklahoma game, Brooks had the flu but still had 17 tackles in a big UT victory against Arkansas. He was named Southwest Conference Lineman of the Week, and after the game, Royal was quoted as saying, "Big ol' Leo really came in. I wasn't aware he was sick until the game was underway. Once pretty early he came out and had a hard time breathing. But every time he got the call, he'd pump up and go out there. He was pretty sick."
And then Royal said the line they could put on Brooks' grave stone.
"Leo's trustworthy. He gives a good effort all the time."
That was the story of Leo Brooks' life. Rest in peace, Large.