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Football's Hot Corner
Tex Maule
October 21, 1963
The perfect corner back is still just around the corner. This mythical man has the speed of a sprinter and he carries the weight of a shotputter.
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October 21, 1963

Football's Hot Corner

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There is only one occasion when the corner back has an opportunity to fraternize, and it is a dubious privilege. That is when a sweep comes around his side. Then he must come up and, at the least, peel off a blocker from the runner's convoy. Brookshier, a sturdily built, handsome man who was a little shorter than ideal height at about six feet, was particularly adept at that.

"I studied it," he says. "I saw some of the big runners like Jim Brown and Taylor absorb the shock of a tackle by taking the impact on their free arms, so that the tackier never reached the body, and I found out you can do the same thing with a blocker. I'd come up hard, try to take the shock of the block on a rigid arm, then relax the arm. Sometimes the blocker slides off and you get a shot at a tackle on the ballcarrier."

Brookshier, during his career with the Eagles, was a deadly tackler. "You have to come up as soon as you read run," he says. "If you come up early enough and fast enough, they can't juke you. Your job is to force the runner to the inside, where most of the defense is. You can't let him go outside of you. As far as tackling itself is concerned, it's different on different fields. In the 1960 championship game in Philadelphia when we beat the Packers, the field was greasy. I would take an extra step, keeping on my feet as long as I could, and go through to the head and shoulders of the ballcarrier instead of trying to hit him lower. That meant I could stay better-balanced. On a dry field you might hit lower and commit yourself sooner.

"But no matter how dry or wet the field and no matter how balanced you are, they all jar you," Brookshier goes on. " Brown has that great speed and balance, and he hits. Jim Taylor runs with a real wide base, so you can't knock him down. One of the toughest is John David Crow, the Cardinal back. Every time I hit him, it felt like he had all his cleats in the ground. No give."

But the tackling is only a small part of playing corner back. By far the biggest part is pass defense. "I wish I had been a little taller," Brookshier says. "Ideal size for a corner back is Night Train Lane of the Lions or Erich Barnes of the Giants. They go about 6 feet 4. So if they get beat a step on a pass, they're still tall enough to go up and spike the ball. I couldn't do that."

Brookshier, like most corner backs, played a careful game of averages. He rarely gambled. Lane, on the other hand, began as the other type of corner back—the gambler. "He was the big-play man," Brookshier said. "Came up fast for the big interception. But he sometimes came up so fast he'd outrun it."

Recently, however, Lane has quit gambling freely. Most defenses in pro football are now so carefully plotted there is no room for it. "I changed after the fourth game last year," Lane says. "I got four touchdown passes thrown over me in the first four games, one in each game. So I spent a couple of days looking at the movies trying to find out why. I found out I was gambling on third down and, say, six or eight to go. I'd come up real tight on my man, gambling on them going to a sideline or a hook for the first down. They were running hitch-and-goes on me, faking the sideline or the hook, then throwing deep behind me. I changed my habits and they quit doing it."

Brookshier, the conservative, was rarely stung on a hitch-and-go. "I let it be known early that I could be beat on a sideline," he says. "I never intercepted a sideline in my life. You can't shut out everything, and you get hurt least on the sideline. I tried to shut off the deep post and corner patterns. They often miss the sideline for one reason or another."

Much of the battle fought by a corner back is a purely personal contest between him and the man he is covering. "The most important thing is to play personnel," Brookshier says. "I used to spend three or four hours a week studying film of the guy I'd be covering on Sunday. Then Pete Retzlaff and I would rehearse during practice." Retzlaff is the fine offensive end for the Eagles.

"I'd play Jimmy Hill for him if we were playing the Cardinals," Brookshier says. "I'd cover him like Jimmy does. Jimmy plays real tight without much room for errors, and he can do it because of his speed. I'd cover Pete real tight, too, so he'd be used to it. Then Pete would be Sonny Randle for me and give me all Sonny's moves and run the patterns the way Sonny runs them. We'd do that for each club. It was a big help."

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