Though he led the city’s beloved NFL team to its first playoff victory, former Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks was never sure how he would be viewed in New Orleans after becoming a fallen hero in the eyes of disenchanted fans.
It seems history now looks upon him favorably.
Brooks and longtime kicker John Carney were introduced Tuesday as the 43rd and 44th members of the Saints Hall of Fame during a mid-day news conference at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Induction ceremonies are scheduled for mid-November.
In addition, Al Nastasi and Tony Piazza, two longtime members of the Saints “chain gang,’’ were named co-recipients of the annual Joe Gemelli Fleur de Lis Award in recognition of their many contributions and unwavering support.
Brooks, 38, becomes the fourth Saints quarterback to enter the Hall of Fame, joining Archie Manning (1988), Billy Kilmer (1990) and Bobby Hebert (1999). Carney, 50, now joins Morten Andersen (2009) as the only kickers in the Hall.
“This is a very emotional time for me,’’ said Brooks, a land developer in Tidewater, Va., who is also involved in charitable endeavors in Virginia. “Although there were some trying times and challenging times for me and my wife (Tisa), it feels good to know that we have travailed and are still standing tall. But, more importantly, to know that we are being looked at in a different light.
“We did not do this by ourselves. I did not do this by myself. A lot of guys contributed to the success I had on the field and off the field. I’m not accepting just on my behalf; the teams from 2000 to 2005 deserve just as much credit. I’d like to thank everyone for putting me in a place in Saints history.’’
Brooks, arguably secured his place in Saints history in 2000 under first-year coach Jim Haslett and offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy. Acquired from the Packers on July 31, 2000, Brooks replaced injured starter Jeff Blake in Game 12 and guided the Saints to the NFC West championship and an historic first playoff victory.
Though remaining the starter through the 2005 season, Brooks never again led the Saints into the postseason. In stints with Green Bay (1999), New Orleans (2000-’05) and Oakland (2006), he threw for 20,261 yards and 123 touchdowns. His 19,156 passing yards and 120 TD passes with the Saints rank second only to Drew Brees.
Frequently aloof and outspoken, Brooks’ critics said he lacked the intangibles associated with being a quarterback and team leader. Judgmental fans took exception to his smiling ways during adverse times.
“The one thing I regret was that I allowed people to infiltrate my comfort zone and take away what I loved best; and that was having fun playing football,’’ Brooks said. “That will never happen again. People didn’t know what was happening on a play, and they didn’t know anything about me. And yet they were criticizing me.
“My wife and I were embedded in the community. I tried to do things the right way. I tried to uplift people the whole time and to get that type of criticism was like, ‘Where did that come from?’ That stayed with me a long time. I guess I just didn’t take it well. But I give myself credit now.”
A 3-13 campaign during the Katrina-plagued season of 2005 ultimately spelled Brooks’ demise and Haslett’s dismissal in New Orleans. One of the few positive moments that season came in Game 1, a 23-20 victory at Carolina, won on a last-second field goal by Carney. A iconic image of Brooks congratulating Carney graced the cover of Sports Illustrated on Sept. 19, 2005.
“That Carolina game was special because of what it meant to the region here after Katrina and because Carolina was considered the ‘big dog’ in the division at the time,’’ said Carney, who ranks second in Saints history in points (768), field goals (168), attempted field goals (203) and PATs (264). “I remember someone telling me that I’d be tied in Saints’ history to that game. I never thought in big terms like that but that was special.’’
One of only three players in NFL history to play in four different decades, Carney cited two other memorable games during his 23 seasons with six different teams, both coming with the Saints: Super Bowl XLIV and the reopening of the Superdome after Katrina on Sept. 25, 2006.
“Of all the playoff games I’ve been in, even the two Super Bowls, one as a player and one as a coach, they still didn’t match the electricity of that Monday night game against Atlanta after Katrina,’’ Carney said. “God has led me to certain places at certain times for a reason.’’