FLOWERY BRANCH — When the dust settled in Dallas and Keith Brooking was back to thinking clearly, he picked up the phone and called Falcons owner Arthur Blank.
During a game against the Falcons back in October of 2009, Brooking wildly celebrated and mocked the Falcons by flapping his arms around like a wounded bird after the Cowboys won 37-21.
“Some of my antics during that game and some of my comments after that game were inappropriate,” Brooking said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “That’s something where I was disappointed in myself. After thinking about it and looking back on it, it was an emotional game. I had just recently been removed from being with that team. I was obviously feeling good in Dallas. The defense played pretty well that day, but what I did didn’t make a lot of sense.”
Brooking, who signed a one-year contract with the Broncos, is set to return to the Georgia Dome on Monday night.
“I called Arthur and explained the situation to him and apologized,” Brooking said. “I wanted to let him know that I didn’t mean any disrespect to him or the organization. I have so much respect for him and what he did for me, giving me the opportunity to extend my career with the team five years into my career to keep me from going to free agency.”
Brooking, coming out of Georgia Tech and East Coweta High, was drafted in the first round (12th overall) by the Falcons in 1998. He’s one the last members from the Falcons only Super Bowl team in the league.
He went on to make five Pro Bowls and was a staple of the defense. He’s one of the few players to play in the three biggest games – Super Bowl XXXIII and the two NFC Championship games – in franchise history.
“What the fans think means something to me,” Brooking said. “I hope they know what kind of person that I am and I hope they know that’s not how I carry myself. I have no regrets about my time there. I left it all out on the field there for 11 years.”
Brooking hopes the fans forgive him for his Dallas episode.
“I still have my memories,” Brooking said. “People, who know me really well, know that I tend to get emotional at times, but I can’t let that get the best of me. That happened during that game and after that game. But by no means did I mean any disrespect to Arthur or that organization. I have a lot of respect for them and what they’ve done there since I’ve been gone and it speaks for itself. I wanted to call him personally and kind of tell him that.”
Brooking, 36, is no longer a starter or a star. He played 11 plays in the opener against Pittsburgh after missing most of the exhibition season with a hamstring injury.
“I play a little bit on special teams,” Brooking said. “That’s something that I haven’t done in 14 years, but that is fun for me.”
Brooking, who’ll still can run and hit, is backing up weakside linebacker Wesley Woodyard and plays mostly in run situations.
“The Pittsburgh game kind of turned into a passing game,” Brooking said. “It was good to get some action since I didn’t play in any of the preseason games.”
Against the Broncos, the Falcons will try to establish the run in an attempt to limit Peyton Manning’s possessions. So Brooking could see plenty of action.
“It’s going to be exciting for me to play one last time in the Dome where it all started for me,” Brooking said. “That’s going to be pretty special to me because I’ll have my family and close friends there to be a part of it. I’m very excited. But at the end of the day, when we fly out of that tunnel and get between those lines, it’s going to be a battle.”
Brooking stays in touch with quarterback Matt Ryan and center Todd McClure.
“Keith is a good guy,” Ryan said. “He helped me out a lot when I came into the league. He was a good leader and led by example. He taught me a lot, so I’ve kept in touch with him over the last couple of years. It will be good to see him.”
When the Falcons played in Indianapolis last season, the Colts did a tribute to Kelvin Hayden, who was a star on their Super Bowl team. It’s unclear if the Falcons plan to honor Brooking, who will be a strong Ring of Honor candidate when he retires.
“That’s something I’ll think about after the game or something they could do down the road or something,” Brooking said.
Brooking is not sure how he’ll feel come kickoff. But he’s certain there won’t be any more mocking of the Falcons.
“It will be emotional, there is no doubt about it,” Brooking said. “I’m excited about the opportunity, I really am. I’ll have to contain those emotions and do my job, just go out there and compete.”
Brooking believes the Falcons are heading in the right direction.
“Matt has done everything that they said he was going to do when he first got there,” Brooking said. “It’s his team now. He’s got them up on his shoulders. The sky is the limit for him and that football team. I’ll get to admire him from afar once we play. Week in and week out his consistency is something I see from him.”
Brooking is expecting a battle between the 1-0 teams.
“It’s going to take a heck of a job to beat the Falcons,” Brooking said. “We’re going to have our hands full.”
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