Thursday, July 23, 2009

Saints Nation: Years Later, The Memory of Aaron Brooks Remains

Aaron Brooks is one of the most controversial Saints players of all time, yet the team results have been virtually the same in the Payton/Brees era vs. the Haslett/Brooks era. So how much does gripe and inner fan turmoil affect the franchise? Furthermore, what makes this current regime so much more enjoyable to follow despite comparable results?

Brooks had certain undeniable qualities. His performance was inconsistent, yet his ability was virtually unmatched. His speed, size, arm strength and playmaking ability was enough to make even the best of NFL QB's jealous. Where Brooks struggled was his on field decision making, his costly mistakes, and his propensity to play "low IQ" football. Brooks also had a very care free demeanor and a laid back approach to things. Brooks played 6 roller coaster seasons as the starting quarterback for the Saints, leading them to the playoffs only once in his very first season as a spot starter coming in for injured Jeff Blake. That season would also be the first time that the Saints would win an NFL playoff game in franchise history, when Brooks led them to an improbable 31-28 victory over the previous Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams in the Superdome. To his credit, early in his career he was viewed as having poise and being virtually unshakable given his limited experience, almost like he was immune to pressure. As he grew older and his demeanor didn't change, some fans turned on him and took his approach as careless, having no heart, and being ambivalent. Brooks got a big contract following his playoff win in 2000 and won the starting job in 2001 - so the Saints were committed to him for the long term.

Ultimately Aaron Brooks' failure to prove that the Saints' investment was wise led to the undoing of head coach Jim Haslett. In 2002, Brooks suffered an injured bicep in his throwing arm which affected his performance greatly. The Saints were in a dead heat for a playoff berth, and folded down the stretch losing their last 3 games to cost them a postseason berth. At the time the Saints had what many fans and media viewed as a very capable backup quarterback in Jake Delhomme, but coach Jim Haslett refused to play the backup despite a significant drop in Brooks' play post injury. At the time, Haslett claimed that Brooks, even injured, gave the team the best chance to win. What he didn't say was that the team had invested heavily in Brooks and were committed to him, and that he was terrified Delhomme would come in, play well, and stir up a quarterback controversy in what was Delhomme's contract year. Haslett had been down that road with veteran Jeff Blake in 2000 when Brooks took over and decided to avoid going through it once more. Haslett would admit years after his dismissal from the Saints that he made a mistake not playing Delhomme that season in favor of an injured Brooks. That following offseason, Delhomme left for Carolina and ultimately led them to the Super Bowl in 2003, exacerbating the issues fans had with the Saints' financial and professional commitment to Brooks. The recent lack of success Brooks had on the field as well as the overall team performance didn't help matters, and neither did Brooks' non-chalant attitude. As you can see from the records the team had during the Brooks years as well as his personal stats, things got worse and worse following the first magical run.

Since the Brooks era, the Saints have won their second playoff game behind quarterback Drew Brees, a quarterback who is quickly establishing himself as not only the best Saints QB of all time, but one of the best currently in the NFL. Brees had a remarkable 1st season that almost earned him NFL MVP honors in 2006, a tough sophomore season in 2007, and a terrific 3rd season that almost saw him break what seemed like an eternal passing record for yards in a season set by Dan Marino in 2008. Despite Brees' personal success, the team has suffered from the same average performances they had when Brooks was leading the way, and thus the memory of Brooks lingers on. Navigating forums you'll still see the obsessive hatred fans held for the man, and you'll also see the diehard supporters jump to his defense as they always did. While the addition of Brees has helped dissipate some of the Aaron Brooks talk, the recent performances of the Saints have not. What is interesting is that Saints fans have been more tolerant of the Brees/Payton era vs. the Brooks/Haslett era entering year 4 despite almost identical results in the win column. Whatever the reason, it's been more pleasant to follow this team as a fan because the turmoil amongst fans was tenfold in the former era. It seems as though the current crop of fans believe in the organization's efforts more than they did back then, and buy into the organizational belief that the ultimate plan for success is on course. Part of that is the fanbase's belief in Brees vs. the previous disbelief they had in Brooks. It's hard to say why Brooks burned some fans to the core like he did. Perhaps race played a role in some cases. Brooks did smile a lot, even when the team was underperforming and when he made costly mistakes - and that turned a lot of fans off. Jim Haslett's loyalty through periods of bad play was an annoyance to many. The fact that they had a capable backup in Delhomme, who never played, and that he went on to another team and had so much more success was another sore spot. Ultimately Brooks just didn't have the personality to assume the role and responsibility of a veteran quarterback and leader.

All in all, it shouldn't have taken the Saints 6 years to figure out Brooks wasn't their man, and it shouldn't still be on the minds of Saints fans that the organization dropped the ball. Brooks did make a lot of efforts in the community for kids (both in New Orleans and in Virginia) and he always stayed out of trouble off the field, so based on the person he is he probably didn't deserve the treatment he received. Those were bad years more so due to the fan base griping than they were on the field, which is sad. Things didn't work out with him and many of you called it long before the plug was pulled. These things happen, and those of you that saw it deserve credit, but we're talking about something that has been over for 4 years. These days things are better amongst debating Saints fans, but the Aaron Brooks debate resurfaces all too often. Let's move on and enjoy this 2009 season, please.

Regardless of what side you stand on of the proverbial Aaron Brooks fence, it seems it won't vanish anytime soon. The quarterback enjoyed some high times in New Orleans very early in his career and he also suffered through professional hardships you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. The NFL is entering its 3rd year without Aaron Brooks, and the Saints are entering their 4th. Perhaps the lack of news is the reason for the nostalgia resurfacing, but it can't go away soon enough. In the end Jim Haslett trusted him unconditionally and it led to his downfall, but Brooks shouldn't be blamed for Haslett's loyalty towards him. Perhaps one way to put this story to rest once and for all would be for the current team to win a SuperBowl?