That's nothing new. Despite being a two-sport star at Homer L. Ferguson High in Newport News, Va., Brooks never got the headlines that Allen Iverson, the quarterback/point guard at rival Bethel High, in Hampton, Va., did. At Virginia, Brooks didn't become the starter until his junior year in 1997, by which time he had been eclipsed in the ACC by Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton. Even today some say Brooks isn't as good as his second cousin, Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick.
Brooks says the slights don't bother him...much. "Man, you should've seen how good Allen was back then," he says. "He was impossible to stop. But in college I was as good as any of those guys coming out. I just hadn't played as long."
Brooks is referring to the NFL's ballyhooed quarterback class of '99, a group mat includes Tim Couch, Daunte Culpepper, Donovan McNabb, Cade McNown and Akili Smith. Brooks, who was not invited to work out privately for a single NFL team before the draft, found the scouting combine, which is attended by more than 300 players, particularly distasteful. "You're just a piece of meat," Brooks says. "You stand there wearing next to nothing and they measure everything on you, even your kneecaps. Then doctors pull on you, grab each place you've been injured. It's horrible."
Worse still was the Wonderlic exam, the 50-question intelligence test on which he scored a below-average 17. "What does that prove?" says Brooks, who graduated with a degree in anthropology. "If you want to test my football knowledge, test me on the history of the league's quarterbacks or on the game's history. Don't give me a mini-SAT."
One team that did take a closer look at Brooks was Green Bay, which didn't test him privately but did work him out in Charlottesville with Virginia wide receivers Germane Crowell and Terrence Wilkins. The Packers' quarterbacks coach at the time was Mike McCarthy, whose return flight from Richmond was canceled due to bad weather. To kill time, he asked Brooks to join him in a film room to "talk football." For three hours Brooks broke down Virginia's offense, going through four games' worth of film. McCarthy, who had thought that Brooks might be too soft-spoken to run an NFL team, came away impressed with the depth of his knowledge. "That talk was like taking a test he hadn't studied for, and he nailed it," says McCarthy.
Brooks was encouraged, too. "Scouts thought I was too shy, too quiet, but I was quietly aggressive," he says. "After that day I felt good about myself, like I belonged."
Brooks was stung when he was not among the first eight quarterbacks taken in the draft and insulted when the Browns called to tell him that although they had selected Couch, they also hoped to sign Brooks—as a free agent. "I was like, 'A what?' " he says. "So when the Packers took me in the fourth round, I was relieved, but still disappointed."
Brooks put the draft behind him, though, and made the most of his year with Green Bay. "I couldn't have asked for a better situation," he says. "I got to work with Coach McCarthy, and I got to watch Brett Favre up close."
Eager to learn the offense, Brooks asked Favre if he remembered his best game. Favre said it was the Packers' 35-28 win over the Chicago Bears in '95, when he completed 25 of 33 passes for 336 yards and five touchdowns. Brooks asked for a tape of that game and watched it over and over. "I still have that tape," Brooks says. "I'll pop it in just to watch Brett play, just to consider the possibilities."
Last April, Mueller and New Orleans head coach Jim Haslett, both new to the Saints and having recently signed Blake to a four-year, $17.4 million contract, set out to find a backup. Haslett had also hired McCarthy as his offensive coordinator. Because McCarthy intended to install an attack similar to the Packers', the Saints focused on Green Bay's backups and dealt for Brooks.