Ex-Colt Brooks finally catches more playoff fever with 2 TDs for Bills

January 17, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills' newest hero arrived here last March, direct from anonymity and the Indianapolis Colts.

Bill Brooks, one of the NFL's better clutch receivers, was a household name only in the Hoosier Dome during an eight-year Colts career.

His journey out of the shadows started with free agency last spring and ended with the Bills' 29-23 AFC playoff victory over the Los Angeles Raiders on Saturday at Rich Stadium.

On a surface better suited for ice skating than football, Brooks caught six passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner three minutes into the fourth quarter.

This was why he signed with the Bills as

an unrestricted free agent -- to play for a winner, to play a big game in January. On Sunday, he'll play in the AFC championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs, who beat the Houston Oilers, 28-20, yesterday.

"I wanted to get a chance to play in a playoff game and be part of it," Brooks said after making the most of his playoff opportunity.

Second only to Raymond Berry on the Colts' all-time receiving list with 411 catches (for 5,818 yards and 28 touchdowns), Brooks made one playoff appearance during his time with Indianapolis. That was six seasons ago in a loss to the Cleveland Browns. He had five catches for 78 yards that day.

When the drought finally ended Saturday, he was understandably nervous. So nervous that his father took him aside before the game and told him to calm down.

"I'm nervous before every game," said Brooks, 29. "But I was extremely nervous before this game.

"After we got out of the car before the game, my mom and my wife were walking together, and my dad was walking with me. I wasn't saying much, and my dad said, 'You've got to relax. You've got to take it easy. You're too tense.' He knew I was being quiet and that I was in the car, but my mind was elsewhere."

His parents had traveled from Milton, Mass., to see the game, but because of the Arctic freeze, Brooks tried to persuade them to watch on TV. They decided to brave the cold and were rewarded with their son's biggest game as a pro.

His first touchdown catch, a 25-yarder from quarterback Jim Kelly, gave the Bills a 19-17 lead in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, he found a seam in the Raiders' zone for a 22-yard touchdown catch that gave Buffalo the lead for good.

"One thing about Billy Brooks is that you know where he's going to be and when he's going to get there," Kelly said, "because he doesn't make any mistakes."

When the Bills needed a spark the most Saturday, Brooks was able to give it to them.

"He has been a tremendous acquisition for the team," coach Marv Levy said. "He a great guy to emulate. . . . [He's got] a great work ethic, and it paid off. He comes to play. He doesn't have a lot of flash and -- about him, but he turned in a great performance in a clutch situation."

A fourth-round draft choice in 1986, Brooks played in 106 games for the Colts. His catches dropped from a career-high 72 in 1991 to a career-low 44 last season. When his contract expired at the end of the season, he left the club without animosity.

"They treated me with respect," he said. "Any time a team gives you a chance to realize your dream, you appreciate it. When I left, I tried to leave on good terms."

Brooks heard from a number of teams, but accepted a three-year, $1.1 million deal from the Bills because they had the best track record in the AFC, with three straight conference championships.

"That would've been a major decision if they weren't winning as much as they are," he said. "They were straightforward with me. They told me I'd come in and compete for a job, and if things worked out, I'd be here. I didn't want anything else."

During the regular season he had 60 catches -- second on the team -- for 714 yards and five touchdowns.

"My teammates were first-class in how they treated me," Brooks said. "Everything was a lot better than I expected. Everybody was warm-hearted and great. I thank God for the opportunity to play here."

The Bills were thankful Saturday, too.

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