Ravens' Brooks blocks pain, too

After wife's death, tackle can handle hard knocks of NFL without blinking

September 21, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Some of the detritus from the Ravens' home-opening debacle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was sweet.

As the Ravens headed to their tunnel, kicker Matt Stover made a boy's day and tossed a ball over the railing. A few feet to the right, a proud father asked his son to pose for a photo.

"What are you taking a picture of me for?" Ethan Brooks said. "Go take a picture of the Inner Harbor. I just let up a sack."

A deliberate man trying to make it in a very fast world, Brooks won't panic over getting beat by a defensive end or pound his chest when the Ravens finally reach the end zone again. Brooks will make his first start at right tackle for Baltimore on Sept. 30 against the Denver Broncos, one of his former teams, but being buffeted by powers bigger than the salary cap is one of the reasons for his even keel.

Brooks is a 30-year-old widower, and his story was intriguing before he ever met Jacquelyn.

He attended a tony prep school in Connecticut and went to Williams College to study pre-med, not football. There are other former Division III players in the NFL, but other than Amherst's Jean Fugett, a Baltimorean and fine tight end in the 1970s, few left a mark coming out of a New England conference that shuns the NCAA tournament on the grounds that it deflects from academics.

Despite its priorities, Williams boasts a broad-based athletic program that is the envy of many larger colleges, and Brooks was a big factor there.

A dangerous defensive lineman, Brooks possessed offensive potential that made him a seventh-round draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons, but that was hardly the best thing that happened to him in 1996. At the NCAA indoor track and field championships, Brooks set a meet record in the 35-pound weight throw. He got a degree in psychology and, most important of all, found his bride-to-be in Atlanta.

"I couldn't see myself being without her," Brooks said.

A graduate of Morris Brown College, Jacquelyn was studying to be a court reporter. Brooks was learning a new position, and shortly after they married in July 1997, he was cut by the Falcons. The year 1998 was bittersweet. Brooks got into 15 games with St. Louis, but his wife began to experience upper back pain.

Around the time of their second wedding anniversary, Jacquelyn Brooks learned she had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Released by the Super Bowl-bound Rams, Ethan Brooks turned down other contract offers, sat out 1999 and accompanied his wife as she prepared for chemotherapy to shrink the softball-sized tumor that spread behind her sternum.

Ethan signed with the Arizona Cardinals. In October 2000, he briefly broke into the starting lineup and Jacquelyn's kidneys stopped functioning.

She died in March 2001. Later that year, Ethan figured to make the Denver Broncos, but then they added a less expensive backup. The Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints didn't work out either. Now, Brooks has a one-year contract with the Ravens, and, for the first time in years, a clear head.

"Ethan keeps a lot to himself," said Alan Brooks, his father. "That isn't because he doesn't have a lot of emotions; he's just a private guy. There was a time when he spent nights on the floor in her hospital room and went to practice the next morning. To focus on football, you have to shut out everything else, and that was impossible."

Ethan entered an interracial marriage, but his wife must have felt comfortable in his eclectic family.

In the Brooks household in Simsbury, Conn., they celebrate Bastille Day as fervently as the Fourth of July. Ethan's mother, Marie-Pier, is a native of France, and he was born with dual citizenship. His father was a star football player at Wesleyan University, but a chronic back condition forced him to turn down an invitation to try out for none other than the Baltimore Colts - in 1959, no less.

All three of the Brooks children inherited their father's love of track and field and were Division III All-Americans in assorted weight events at Williams College. A three-sport All-American, Rebecca is a soccer coach at Tufts. Fletcher is the strength and conditioning coach at Williams, and Ethan absorbs his knowledge of health and nutrition as he hones his 6-foot-6, 305-pound frame.

"I try to enjoy every day," Brooks said, "because you don't know how many we have."

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