By Michael Cunningham
The ball popped out of Falcons running back Michael Turner’s grasp and, for a brief moment, it appeared linebacker Keith Brooking was going to come home and save the Broncos.
Brooking would get the ball back after Peyton Manning’s interception set up Falcons for a quick scoring chance. He’d stun Falcons fans who jeered him before the game. After 16 years in the game, here was Brooking making a game-saving play.
Alas, Turner collected his fumble and scored a touchdown on the next play. Brooking was denied his big moment and the Falcons went on to defeat Denver 27-21 at the Georgia Dome.
“Not a very good homecoming for me,” Brooking said.
Brooking was back in the place where he’s spent most of his life, from East Coweta High to Georgia Tech to 11 seasons with the Falcons. He got a chilly reception from the home folks.
Falcons fans booed whenever Brooking’s name was mentioned, starting with a pregame introduction. was introduced before the game. The animosity directed at Brooking by fans seems mostly related to his actions while with the Cowboys in 2009.
One season after the Falcons released him, Brooking taunted them during a Cowboys victory. Brooking told the AJC last week that he regrets his antics in Dallas, apologized to Falcons owner Arthur Blank and hopes Atlanta fans will forgive him.
It appears they haven’t yet but Brooking brushed off the derision.
“I was the enemy tonight,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting a lot of cheers. I heard a few cheers in there. I was actually pleasantly surprised about that.
“But I love the fans here. I had a lot of great years here and they supported me in a big way for 11 years. So no hard feelings about that.”
After playing just 11 snaps during Denver’s first game, Brooking played extensively against the Falcons. He was credited with five tackles and the forced fumble.
It was, Brooking said, an “emotional” homecoming.
“I spent a lot of great years here and I have a lot of good memories and a lot of respect for this organization,” he said. “I knew it was going to be emotional but, once I got between those lines on the first snap, it was football. You kind of put all of that aside and focus and concentrate and try to help your team win.”
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